In the heart of New York and in harmony with its surroundings, the new headquarters of the Permanent Mission of the United Arab Emirates to the United Nations coexists with the city without foregoing its own strengths and traditions, mirroring its home culture’s soul in the welcoming spirit of a Middle Eastern residence.
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) designed the building with an all-encompassing vision on Hammarskjöld Plaza in Manhattan’s Turtle Bay neighborhood, a district that from 1950 began a transformation after the UN headquarters was completed.
This latest addition is a building that evokes the integration of two worlds through iconic architecture. The façade’s contemporary Big Apple design reserves space for Middle Eastern ornamental motifs. Clad in Indiana limestone like the Rockefeller Center and Empire State Building, the façade is characterized by undulating shapes that taper upwards, not only serving a functional purpose but redolent of palm leaves, a symbol of peace. This abstract evocation is reinforced by the leaves carved onto a frieze that frames the glass entrance under a bronze canopy.
Symbols of hospitality abound in the almost 6,968 sq. m of floorspace distributed over ten floors, as in traditional Middle Eastern houses organized around an idealized courtyard. As well as offering continuity with the external environment, the furnishings’ delicate palette plays an important role in fostering a peace-filled atmosphere.
Dedicated to events and meetings, the entrance lobby and two lower floors offer large and multifunctional rooms designed as effective diplomacy spaces. This is certainly true of the room by the staircase on the first level above ground, which naturally extends into a bright, upper level auditorium that also doubles as an art gallery.
The dark, visible veining of Canadian limestone envelopes the staircase and first floor, its layers and natural appearance telling an age-old story. The second level is characterized by white Italian marble and furnishings by designer Nada Debs. Above this is a dining room, library, children’s facilities and relaxation rooms. The hallmark features of the offices on the fourth to sixth floors are American walnut veneer, Calacatta marble and arabesques, along with custom-made furniture and the appeal of trees in the park below, symbolizing a microcosm redolent of Arab roots in the form of classical mashrabiya shuttered window motifs. Guests have a dedicated Majlis (literally, places of sitting), calm private lounges on the seventh and eighth floors close to the executive areas, alongside the room designed by SOM and Debs with the Naqsh collective, featuring a round, black, Tunisian stone table lit by stylized raindrop chandeliers.
The designers’ quest to strike a balance with nature, affirmed by LEED Gold certification, reaches its zenith on the rooftop terrace, which looks out over the New York skyline and extends into a sophisticated indoor meeting and events area.
A Middle Eastern ethos and timeless design coexist right to the top of the building in what is a successful approach to the eternal question of intercultural exchange through materials.
Location: New York City, USA
Clients: Ministry of State (UAE), Fisher Brothers
Gross Floor Area: 6,968 m2
Architect and Interior Designer: SOM
Main Contractor: Plaza Construction
Structures: DeSimone Consulting Engineers
MEP: Cosentini Associates
Geotechnics and Civil: Langan
Lighting: SBLD Studio
Traffic: Philip Habib & Associates
Photography by Dave Burk, courtesy of SOM
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