The U.N. Building

Aaron Betsky, Author, Ben Murphy, Photographer, Kofi Annan, Foreword by
Aaron Betsky, Author, Ben Murphy, Photographer, Kofi Annan, Foreword by Thames & Hudson $40 (160p) ISBN 978-0-500-34216-9
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While a thorough photographic exploration of the U.N. building occupies the bulk of the book, the introduction by architect Betsky provides critical perspective on the ""tortured and sometimes happenstance process"" of the building's design, parsing its shapes and spaces in the Modernist context that produced them. Finally, and aptly, he segues into the photography that follows by offering an insightful consideration of how the U.N. has been portrayed in films throughout the years as a symbol of order and freedom. He also cites in many photographers' U.N. images a ""slightly nostalgic tinge"" ""that makes us remember nothing so much as the promise the past felt the future once held."" Murphy's photographs explore the grand spaces of the General Assembly Hall and Security Council Chamber and capture sweeping exteriors of the buildings. But we see Betsky's remarks about nostalgia echoed in the many tiny and well-preserved details Murphy captures: telephones and magnetic tapes inside interpreters' booths; centrally-synchronized I.B.M. vacuum tube clocks and signage designed using a font specially created for the U.N. Not even a typewritten card-catalog label (""Peace"") in the Dag Hammarskjold Library escapes his notice. Entirely devoid of human presence, Murphy's images present the U.N. complex as an artifact from an era of idealism. Recommended.
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