Of course the UN General Assembly Hall is recognizable, but what does its semi-circle shape mean? Apparently, its one of the oldest–and a neoclassical go to for fostering consensus and democratic engagement.
The architecture of a legislative body tells a lot about how governance works in each respective body. A new book by Max Cohen de Lara and David Mulder van der Vegt explains, including their methodology:
To answer that question, we spent six years collecting the architectural layout for each one of those buildings. We’ve published our findings in our book “Parliament.” By comparing these plans in detail, we wanted to understand how a political culture is both shaped by and expressed through architecture. Organized as a lexicon, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, the book for the first time allows a comparison of all national parliaments in the world.We found a clear pattern. Although each of the 193 United Nations member states has a parliament of some kind — albeit with varying degrees of democracy — their plenary chambers have a very limited number of shapes. Most surprisingly, these buildings have hardly changed since the 19th century.
Also, don’t miss the website for the book, Parliament, to see schematics of a number of UN Member State’s legislative body, and even the UN in Geneva and interactive photos, facts, and more. Great stuff for policy geeks, parliamentarians, and designers interested in civic engagement and proxemics.
I have to admit, having been to my first UN General Assembly week in NYC for a few years–it was pretty exciting, for many of the reasons noted in this piece:
For years, there had been nothing to see at the General Assembly. It consisted almost solely of top diplomats meeting in back rooms while the press and the public stood behind security barriers. Now, there are numerous large events in which the public can participate.People could attend United Nations events by signing up for particular sessions or meetings. The Social Good Summit, founded six years ago, drew 1,800 participants, up from 1,600 last year. The Global Citizen Festival, which provided free tickets to the Central Park concert to those who had engaged in charitable efforts, attracted a crowd of 60,000.“It’s about turning U.N. week inside out,” said Pete Cashmore, founder and chief executive of Mashable, who helped start the Social Good Summit. “Rather than a few powerful people deciding the fate of the world, how do we get everyone involved and engaged in a dialogue?” For the first time, similar gatherings were held in Washington and London this year.
Call this one a “win” for Israel at the UN (Samantha Power did), a venue that has rarely been favorable to the Jewish State:
The General Assembly has never before held a meeting devoted to anti-Semitism. An Israeli diplomat said Thursday that Israel was prompted to push for one in October after a spate of attacks in Europe, and that it was particularly troubled when the United Nations made no mention of anti-Semitism in condemning the attack on the Jewish Museum.
The United States pushed for the session too, which the American ambassador, Samantha Power, called an important step in an organization that she said had often been “a venue for the de-legitimization of Israel.”
Visit the UN General Assembly’s headquarters…in Queens? Yep, and now you can go and see the newly remodeled building:
Given that mix today, it makes symbolic sense, at least, that for four years, from 1946 to 1950, the United Nations General Assembly had its first headquarters in Queens, in a low, pale slab of a building designed to be New York City’s Pavilion for the 1939 World’s Fair. Set on an edge of what is now called Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, with the Grand Central Parkway streaming by, it proved itself a versatile premises, suited equally to athletics and aesthetics. For many years, half the building was a skating rink. The other half, beginning in 1972, was home to the Queens Museum of Art.
Several months ago, the museum closed fully to complete a two-year, $69 million renovation that mostly took place while the museum remained open.
At the height of the diplomatic negotiations last week over a United Nations Security Council resolution that would require Syria to turn over its stockpile of chemical weapons, the American ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, used Twitter to pre-empt criticism of the measure as lacking teeth because it had no automatic enforcement provision.
Transporting world leaders to the GA last week requires some planning at New York’s largest airport, JFK:
Some years can be more complicated than others. When Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attended the General Assembly, he would have the pilots turn off their plane’s transponder as it approached the airport, causing it to disappear from the screen used in the command center to track aircraft, Lieutenant Lomonaco said. Or his plane would veer north away from the city “trying to be a little evasive” before landing, he added.
Select media and Iran experts had a rare face-to-face with the Iranian president last week. Fareed Zakaria mentioned it on his Sunday GPS program. Here, Friedman gives his takeaway on what to think about Iran’s President Rouhani:
1) He’s not here by accident. That is, this Iranian charm offensive is not because Rouhani, unlike his predecessor, went to charm school. Powerful domestic pressures have driven him here.
2) We are finally going to see a serious, face-to-face negotiation between top Iranian and American diplomats over Iran’s nuclear program.
3) I have no clue and would not dare predict whether these negotiations will lead to a peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear crisis.
4) The fact that we’re now going to see serious negotiations raises the stakes considerably. It means that if talks fail, President Obama will face a real choice between military action and permanent sanctions that could help turn Iran into a giant failed state.