Renovation

$28 / $21 for current subscribers

Softcover, 224 pp, 9 x 12 inches

In 2008, the United Nations embarked on a massive renovation of its New York complex. The iconic interiors were to be completely gutted, upgraded, and then reconstructed, their character-defining elements restored and returned as closely as possible to their original state. For six years, photographer Nancy Davenport followed the construction workers, documenting the temporal and spatial disorientation that the renovation produced. She took photographs, and also interviewed the workers as well as UN employees.

In 1951, when the UN Headquarters was about to open, the architecture historian Lewis Mumford critiqued its design as one in which “the future is frozen solidly in the form of the present.” In 2008, one could imagine this ice melting, especially as the renovation occurred at a time when the UN was engaged in an intense debate over its procedures and the need to expand its membership—the need, in other words, to chart a new future for an institution that was being physically torn apart only to be returned to its original state.

Renovation—which includes Davenport’s photographs, interview transcripts, archival images, and items from the artist’s own immense collection of vintage UN paraphernalia—is a memento of this deliquescence. But it also conveys the curious life of this unstable extraterritorial space, which, though considered a relic by many, still allows, to borrow the words of historian Perry Anderson, “a glimpse of the history of possibility.”

A few sample images from the book are available here.

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