A Juggernaut’s Vision: RM and the UN

The United Nations Secretariat tower stands tall, well protected, and in isolation from other buildings that would anyhow pale in comparison, both in their appearance and what they represent. The UN headquarters is located on 42nd Street and 1st Ave, in the Turtle Bay area, on the east side of Manhattan, overlooking the East River.

Around 5 pm on a Tuesday, men and women were flowing in and out of the gates that barricaded the building from the general public. In asking at least ten people, of all ages, not a single person knew the name Robert Moses. There wasn’t a flicker of recognition when told that he was the man whose vision helped put the UN building in that very spot. Nor were any of the five guards and policemen familiar with the name.

While not being able to actually enter the headquarters – by fault of arriving a mere seven minutes past closing time, at 4:45 pm – it’s easy to see that the building itself holds much meaning without even straying from its exterior parameters. Even with the flags down for the night.

The building, which sits on 17 acres of land, was constructed in 1949 and 1950. While there were many important real estate and architectural tycoons  – William Zeckendorf, Wallace Harrison – involved in the construction of the complex, Robert Moses had the first and almost final say in the building’s location.

It was Moses who was in large part responsible for the decision to place the building in Manhattan, as opposed to Philadelphia. Many Moses advocates believe he made an important contribution by building an infrastructure that most people had wanted at the time, and one that has endured.

Even though Moses didn’t design the building, he had such a large sphere of influence over city politics, and the men who ran the city itself. Because of this power, he was the main component in the decision making process to determine the building’s position.

Moses was a proponent of New York serving as an international powerhouse, thus the only city in the US fitted to house such an important structure. He decided that the only appropriate place for this building was, in fact, his city, the city in which he had much political clout.

What’s important to note is that nowhere on the site is there a tribute to Robert Moses. He’s the invisible pioneer of the UN headquarters, and yet somehow this proud, rigid, protected, and very powerful structure represents the very legacy Moses left behind.

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