Late 1970s and early 1980s hotel interiors are a rare preserved exemplar of late Modern and early Postmodern design. Landmarks voted to designate as an interior City landmark the hotel lobby and Ambassador Grill of the United Nations Hotel at its meeting on January 17, 2017. The hotel, at 1 United Nations Plaza was built as part of a larger complex by the United Nations Development Corporation. The two interior spaces were completed seven years apart− the Grill in 1976 and the lobby area in 1983.
The U-shaped grill features a mirrored wall, a vaulted faux skylight, and angled walls in the dining and bar area. The lobby area possesses a stepped octagonal glass dome, and ramped hallway with free-standing marble columns. The spaces were both designed by the firm Kevin Roche Dinkeloo Associates. Eero Saarinen protégées Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo were the primary designers of the late Modern and early Postmodern spaces, and were also the creative team behind the individually landmarked exterior and interior of the Ford Foundation. Landmarks’ Research Department drew attention to the spaces’ role in the City’s social history, as a “destination and an active participant in the disco era of the late 70s and early 1980s.”
At a hearing held on November 22, 2006, the owners presented no objections to designation. Support was voiced by former Yale School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern, Docomomo, and other City preservationist organizations. A representative of the Historic Districts Council and Wesley Kavanagh, a current Principal of Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo Associates, argued that the designation ought to encompass more of the interior, particularly spaces connecting the Grill and the lobby, and a sitting area attached to the lobby. Kavanagh stated, “this is one architectural space and should be designated as such,” rather than being limited to the two separate areas.
Commissioner Fred Bland embraced the interiors’ designation, saying it was “Architecture that represents its time at the highest quality.” Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said the interiors met all the criteria for an interior landmark, being both publicly accessible and intact. She said the interiors embodied their time period, and their landmarking was consistent with Landmarks’ chronicling of New York City’s history through its built environment. She called the interiors a fine example of an era of architecture and design that is “coming of age right now.” Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of designation.
LPC: United Nations Hotel, First Floor Interiors, 1 United Nations Plaza, Manhattan (LP-2588) (Jan. 17, 2017).