The Main UN building from its side (All photos: MC)
Inside the main entrance hall
Architecture is about enveloping empty space such that it does not feel stifled. Great architects take empty space and redirect it through compelling design aesthetics. I have been thinking of such things for the past couple of days because of having to report out of the United Nations building. Some of you might know that the UN building complex was designed by the two greats Oscar Niemeyer and Le Corbusier along with a panel of other architects. The stamp of the two is all over the building complex but let me just point out two features. Not that I know much but it seems more Niemeyer than Corbusier because it was the former whose design was chosen over the latter.
For a complex that is as big as the UN building is, it feels remarkably light on the eye. When you approach the main general assembly building from side despite that fact that you are looking a structure with 39 floors, it is still so easy on the eye. It reminds me of the monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’ Yesterday between meetings I went out and looked at it closely. I had the same eerie feeling of magnetism that the apes in the movie do when they look at the monolith. If there was a pile of bones, I may have picked up one and hurled it high. But I digress.
Even the huge main entrance hall (see the pictures) gives you a feeling of airiness despite empty space having been enveloped in these high rising walls and Japanese screen-like front. That is where an architect’s sense of design kicks in. Because of my architect brother Trilochan, I have been exposed to architectural concepts for a long time. I automatically notice these details.
It is a terrific complex to make movies. Over the years, the building’s cinematic appeal has attracted many filmmakers, including Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘North by Northwest’ (1959) or Sydney Pollack’s more recent ‘The Interpreter’ (2005), to shoot there. The striking thing about any great building is that you can point your camera anywhere and produce compelling shots. People should not forget it is not their talent as photographers but the architecture of the building that does the job.
I suspect not a lot of people come to the UN building and look at the building because of who designed it. I do because I do that sort of thing.