New York

24 April 2013

Secretary-General's remarks at Special General Assembly Tribute to Oscar Niemeyer and the United Nations Board of Design [as prepared for delivery]

Thank you so much for participating in this tribute to the great architect Oscar Niemeyer and the United Nations Board of Design.

I can think of no better commemorative meeting to hold just weeks before we start the renovation of this General Assembly Hall.

It is hard to imagine now that this beautiful ‘workshop for peace’ sits on the site of a former slaughter house.

So many livestock were killed here, this area used to be called “blood alley.”

A Board of Design was created to create a complex that would express the vision of the United Nations set out in the Charter. The Board brought together 11 architects from around the world. It was almost its own “mini-UN”.

The youngest member was Oscar Niemeyer. He was also one of the boldest and most creative.

They designed what was then a very modern United Nations Headquarters. The Secretariat building was the first in New York City to have this kind of glass-and-steel structure.

Our architects were ahead of the times. I hope that we will follow their example and stay at the vanguard when it comes to solving global problems.

When the campus opened, United States President Harry Truman said, “These are the most important buildings in the world, for they are the centre of man’s hope for peace and a better life.”

For Oscar Niemeyer, the purpose of the building was more meaningful than the structure itself.

He often said the most important thing in life is not architecture – it is trying to change the world.

Oscar Niemeyer was troubled by the gap between rich and poor. He responded by creating beautiful buildings that could be enjoyed equally by all people.

Mr. Niemeyer, who passed away last year at the age of 104, lived a rich and meaningful life.

Although I never had the privilege of meeting him, I feel as though I knew him. When I travelled to Brasilia – the beautiful modern city that Niemeyer designed – I felt right at home since he also designed the UN Headquarters.


In a few weeks we will say a temporary goodbye to this room. We will appreciate all the more what a welcoming home it has been for disagreements and debate, for concerts and other special events … and for consensus on some of the most pressing problems of our time.

Although we will not meet in this Hall, we can still be inspired by the Board of Design. They pulled together many different perspectives from around the world to create our beautiful Headquarters.

Let us carry on this spirit of international collaboration to build a better future for all people.

Thank you.