Video> Michael Adlerstein & John Gering on retrofitting the United Nations Secretariat Building

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The United Nations Headquarters site in Manhattan (seen here in 1985) covers approximately sixteen acres from 42nd to 48th Streets between First Avenue and the East River. Among the buildings on the premises are the marble-framed 39-storey Secretariat (to the left); the General Assembly building topped with a shallow dome; the Dag Hammarskjöld Library (to the left of the Secretariat); and the building housing the Council Chambers and Conference Rooms which lies on the river's edge. (UN Photo/Yutaka Nagata.)

The United Nations Headquarters site in Manhattan (seen here in 1985) covers approximately sixteen acres from 42nd to 48th Streets between First Avenue and the East River. (UN Photo/Yutaka Nagata.)

In addition to being AN‘s Midwest Editor, I was the special media correspondent for the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in 2014, interviewing tall building designers, developers, and other experts at the skyscraper think tank’s Shanghai conference, and its annual CTBUH Awards ceremony in Chicago.

The retrofit at the United Nations, seen in progress in 2012.

The retrofit at the United Nations, seen in progress in 2012.

In Chicago I interviewed two of the minds behind the recent overhaul to the headquarters of the United Nations in New York City (technically, in an extraterritorial space contiguous with Midtown Manhattan). Michael Adlerstein, of the U.N. Capital Master Plan & John Gering, managing partner of design firm HLW International, discussed the retrofit of the 1953 United Nations Secretariat Building, a finalist in CTBUH’s 2014 awards.

“Not many buildings in our time are looking at the exterior window wall and composition with the interior as one system. In many cases they’re looking at them as either the exterior or interior,” said Gering. “What we looked to do was blend those two things together, and the end result was a lot of energy savings.”

The handsome glass skyscraper exemplifies midcentury office design, drawing on the  expertise of its architects, Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer, and Wallace K. Harrison. But its outmoded performance standards left it in need of a serious update. In that sense the project to retrofit the building—which also included firms Heintges & Associates, Gardiner & Theobald, Skanska, and Rolf Jensen & Associates—is a case study for repurposing aging office buildings around the world.

“All buildings need to be considered for recycling because they do incorporate tremendous embodied energy … And not just beautiful buildings and buildings where treaties were signed,” said Adlerstein. “I do feel the preservation movement has to move beyond iconic buildings.”

Michael Adlerstein (left), United Nations Capital Master Plan & John Gering, HLW International, discuss the retrofit of the United Nations Secretariat Building, at the 2014 CTBUH Awards in Chicago.

Michael Adlerstein (left), United Nations Capital Master Plan & John Gering, HLW International, discuss the retrofit of the United Nations Secretariat Building at the 2014 CTBUH Awards in Chicago.

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