When the UN came into being on 24 October 1945, it had no home. On 11 December 1945, the US Congress unanimously invited the UN to make its headquarters in the US. In February 1946, the General Assembly, meeting for its first session in London, voted for the general vicinity of Fairfield and Westchester counties, near New York City, but sites near Philadelphia, Boston, and San Francisco also were considered during 1946. Then came the dramatic offer by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., to donate $8.5 million toward the purchase of properties along the East River in midtown Manhattan. The City of New York rounded out the zone and granted rights along the river frontage. By November 1947, the General Assembly approved the architectural plans, and nine months later, the UN concluded a $65 million interest-free loan agreement with the US government. The director of planning for UN headquarters was Wallace K. Harrison of the US. The international board of design consultants included G. A. Soilleux, Australia; Gaston Brunfaut, Belgium; Oscar Niemeyer, Brazil; Ernest Cormier, Canada; Ssu-ch'eng Liang, China; Charles le Corbusier, Switzerland; Sven Markelius, Sweden; Nikolai D. Bassow, USSR; Howard Robertson, United Kingdom; and Julio Vilamajo, Uruguay.
The first structure to be completed, in the spring of 1951, was the 39-story marble and glass Secretariat building. In 1952, the conference building (with the three council halls and a number of conference rooms) and the General Assembly building were ready.
Thus, it was five or six years before the UN was permanently housed. In the interim, the Secretariat was established provisionally at Hunter College in the Bronx, New York, and in August 1946, the UN moved to the Sperry Gyroscope plant at Lake Success, Long Island. Several General Assembly sessions took place in the New York City Building at Flushing Meadow, and in 1948 and 1951, the body met at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris.
A library building at the headquarters site, erected and equipped through a $6.6 million donation by the Ford Foundation, was dedicated in 1961 to the memory of former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld.
Various furnishings and works of art for the conference and General Assembly buildings and the library have been donated by member governments. Adjoining the public lobby in the General Assembly building is the Meditation Room, dedicated to those who have given their lives in service to the UN. It includes a stained glass window by Marc Chagall on the theme of "Peace and Man." The public gardens north of the General Assembly building contain sculpture and plantings donated by governments and individuals.
The United Nations headquarters was designed to serve four major groups: delegations, who now represent 191 member states and who send more than 3,000 persons to New York each year for the annual sessions of the General Assembly; the Secretariat, numbering nearly 15,000 throughout the world; visitors, who average 1,500 a day; and journalists, of whom more than 450 are permanently accredited while twice that number are present during major meetings.
For a small fee, visitors may join one of the Secretariat's tours of the headquarters buildings, conducted daily in 20 languages by some 50 guides from around 30 countries.
Because of the increase in the number of member states, the seating capacity of the conference rooms and the General Assembly Hall has been enlarged. A major expansion of office and meeting facilities at UN headquarters was undertaken in the 1980s.
About 61,000 men and women from some 170 countries work for the UN and its related organs and agencies—about one-third of them at UN headquarters and the other two-thirds at offices and centers around the globe. (See also the chapter on the Secretariat.)
UN headquarters, together with the organization's offices in Geneva and Vienna, provide the interpreters, translators, writers, editors, and conference personnel required for the many UN meetings throughout the world, as well as for other meetings held under UN auspices.
The UN has its own telecommunications system. UN headquarters is linked by radio with the offices in Geneva and Vienna, which, in turn, provide liaison with UN organs and offices in different parts of the world.
As part of the fundamental modernization and reorganization of the United Nations, the organization's bank of IBM mainframes was replaced in stages by an Integrated Management Information System (IMIS). The first phase of the replacement, completed in early 1994, implemented a personnel system covering recruiting, hiring, promotions, and moving. Four hundred users at the headquarters were connected to Unix servers with personal computers using Windows software. Eventually all administrative applications were transferred to four Unix systems organized in client-server architecture. The phased installation of this multi-million-dollar system at various UN offices and agencies around the world continued in 2002. Other users, such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and the International Labor Organization (ILO), had progressively adapted the software to their special requirements. In late 1998, a report of independent experts, initiated at the General Assembly's request, favorably evaluated IMIS from both the technical and cost perspectives. Their recommendations, as well as those of the General Assembly and the Board of Auditors, were subsequently addressed.
UN stamps are issued under separate agreements with the postal authorities of the US, Switzerland, and Austria and are valid for postage only on mail deposited at UN headquarters in New York and at the UN offices in Geneva and Vienna. UN stamps may be obtained by mail, over the counter, or automatically through the Customer Deposit Service in New York, Geneva, or Vienna. Only revenue from the sale of stamps for philatelic purposes is retained by the UN. In addition to producing revenue, UN stamp designs publicize the work of the organization and its related agencies.