For half a century, the United Nations building in New York has been the focus of international inspiration. Its podium has seen petitioners for peace, for independence, for justice. Its murals and statuary express the loftiest ideals. Born of World War II and the struggle against fascism, the UN has been the parent body of many small states, and an arena for the peaceful composition of disputes between the powers. Yet, under its flag, wars have been fought and imperfect compromises brokered. The high language of its universal declarations on human rights and dignities has become cheapened by cynicism. Its servants and institutions have been exposed to decay and corruption. Meanwhile, the filiations of power and alignment which created the world body have been radically altered, while the hierarchy of the UN itself has not.
These and other ironies and contradictions are visible in the Headquarters Building on the East River of Manhattan—a building that enshrined the most optimistic elements of modernism in design and symbolized them in function but which was also, from the first, an occasion of dispute between the Rockefellers and Le Corbusier and thus, indirectly, between two conceptions of world order. In a series of photographs, Adam Bartos affirms the beauty of the UN’s modern architecture, while capturing the wear and tear of an idealism thwarted by decades of diplomatic compromise. The text, by Christopher Hitchens, explores the themes of utopia and the limits of governmental good intentions.
In a striking series of colour photographs, Adam Bartos affirms the beauty of the UN’s modern architecture while capturing the wear and tear of an idealism thwarted by decades of diplomatic compromise. The accompanying text, written with characteristic wit and acuity by Christopher Hitchens, explores the themes of Utopia and the limits of governmental good intentions.