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860-870 United Nations Plaza
(East of First Avenue between 48th & 49th Streets)

860 United Nations Plaza viewed from the south

Twin towers of 860 United Nations Plaza viewed from the south

By Carter B. Horsley

This twin-towered, 38-story apartment and office complex commands impressive views of the United Nations to the south, midtown to the west and the East River to the east.

The six-story base of the large development contains about 300,000 square feet of office space and the cooperative apartments share an expansive, corporate-style lobby overlooking an enclosed garden court.

View from the northwest

View from the northwest, UN Secretariat Building at the right


The full-block project has its own block-long driveway that makes for an impressive entrance. It was designed by Harrison, Abramovitz & Harris and erected in 1966.

The towers are huge and a bit ungainly and the apartments are notable mostly for their large and tall windows and views. The tower facades are in the Miesian tradition of crisp rectilinearity and are reminiscent of, but inferior to, the Seagram Building and the former Union Carbide Building, both on Park Avenue.

The towers are slightly lower than the United Nations Secretariat Building, as was mandated by zoning, and clearly its glass facades were also in deference to that tower, although they are black rather than blue-green. Almost four decades later, however, Donald Trump erected a much taller apartment tower across First Avenue from this complex and one block to the south, breaking through the skyline ceiling of the United Nations (see The City Review article).

Entrance viewed from Mitchell Place

Entrance to 860 United Nations Plaza viewed from Mitchell Place

Despite its lack of fine architectural detail, this enormous complex has always attracted an impressive roster of affluent or famous tenants, attracted presumably to its great views, the large gardens and park of the United Nations to the south, and the surrounding Beekman Place neighborhood rather than any thought of exclusivity.

The two towers contain a total of 334 apartments, of which 56 are duplexes on the top eight floors.

While its scale and proportions are rather cumbersome, the complex nevertheless makes a handsome, if not distinguished, foil to the U. N. complex, which, after all, is the most important consideration. The project was the first on the East Side to follow the pioneering lead of twin-towered residential projects on Central Park West. It was also influential in helping to bolster the residential attractiveness of the area for subsequent high-rise development nearby and major mixed-use development elsewhere in the city.

In their excellent book, "New York 1960, Architecture and Urbanism Between The Second World War and the Bicentennial," (The Monacelli Press, 1995), Robert A. M. Stern, Thomas Mellins and David Fishman provide the following commentary relating to the project's design by Wallace Harrison, who was very active in the design of the United Nations complex:

"In 1963 Harrison's vision of towers at the north end of the U.N. site, dating back to his X City proposal of 1946, was at last realized when ground was broken for the two towers that would become 860-870 United Nations Plaza (1966). The two thirty-two-story apartment towers were placed on a six-story base containing 336,000 square feet of office space, with a terrace floor atop the offices marking the transition between the two. (This terrace was initially proposed as a sun deck but was never used as such because it was felt that the sight of semiclad sunbathers would have an adverse effect on the value of the apartments on the towers' lower floors.) The apartments were entered through a common lobby off Forty-ninth Street, while access to the offices was from two lobby entrances on Forty-eighth Street. Set on 2.3 acres of land, the building housed 334 apartments, including fifty-six duplexes on the top eight floors, some as large as nine rooms and many with wood-burning fireplaces; their lavish size and logical plans represented a level of accommodation that was extremely rare in the postwar era....Despite its hulking mass and the slightly brooding quality of its dark-tinted glassy facades, so much more like commercial ofice buildings than like the palazzoesque prewar apartment buildings that had set the standard of fashion along Fifth and Park avenues, the U. N. Plaza, as the development was commonly referred to, quickly became a fashionable address for the power elite, including many high-level corporate executives....the first wave of reisdents included the lawyer Christian Herter Jr., the novelist Trumon Capote, the philanthropist Mary Lasker, the former Attorney General William Rogers and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Mrs. Lasker's apartment in the east tower was to serve not as her home - she was quite happy in her townhouse on Beekman Place - but as a kind of private art gallery for her growing collection of contemporary art."

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