Inauguration of UNESCO Headquarters, Paris


UNESCO HeadquartersLocated on the Place de Fontenoy, in Paris, the main building which houses the Headquarters of UNESCO was inaugurated on 3 November 1958. The Y-shaped design was invented by three architects of different nationalities under the direction of an international committee. It is built on a site previously occupied by a cavalry barracks to the rear of the Ecole Militaire, on a three-hectare site made available by the French Government.


Nicknamed the ‘three-pointed star’, the entire edifice stands on seventy-two columns of concrete piling. It is world famous, not only because it is the home of a well-known organization but also because of its outstanding architectural qualities.


Aerial view of UNESCO HeadquartersThree more buildings complete the headquarters site. The second building, known affectionately as the "accordion", holds the egg-shaped hall with a pleated copper ceiling where the plenary sessions of the General Conference are held. The third building is in the form of a cube. Lastly, a fourth construction consists of two office floors hollowed out below street level, around six small sunken courtyards. The buildings, which contain many remarkable works of art, are open to the public.


In the early years of its existence, UNESCO was installed in the "Majestic", a large disused hotel near the Champs-Elysées, in central Paris. The staff was obliged to work from the rooms formerly reserved for guests and to keep their files in the bathtubs. The hotel had served as the headquarters for the German army during the occupation of France.


France - stamp UNESCO Headquarters inauguration 1958UNESCO’s special mission – to build peace on the foundation “of the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind” – called for a grand architectural statement. The two years of surveys and research before actual construction began included broad cooperation between the greatest architects of the time – Walter Gropius (United States), Charles Le Corbusier (France), Ernesto Rogers (Italy), Sven Markelius (Sweden) and Lucio Costa (Brazil). American architect Eero Saarinen was also consulted.


Team of architects for UNESCO HeadquartersThe planners conceived a big work of art and from the beginning the architecture was blended with paintings, sculpture, tapestry and other artistic forms. Control of the project was given to three architects. Bernard Zehrfuss (France) was in charge of the overall planning. Marcel Breuer (United States) conceived the main building and the Conference Hall. Pier Luigi Nervi (Italy) designed the 72 ribbed concrete pillars on which the main building rests.


As soon as the architectural plans for the site at the Place de Fontenoy had been approved, UNESCO commissioned a number of great artists to create works to adorn the future premises. In some cases, the works are also intended to evoke the peace that the institution has sought to establish and preserve throughout the world. Over the years, other works were acquired. Some were donated to the Organization by various Member States. Picasso, Bazaine, Miro, Tapiès, Le Corbusier and many other artists, both famous and unknown, all have their place in this universal museum that echoes the diversity of artistic creation throughout the world.


Builders working on UNESCO HeadquartersIn 1965, a new building constructed around underground patios was added, and in 1970 and 1977, two supplementary buildings. The buildings were designed and approved by several leading architects. Works by contemporary artists are an integral part of the headquarters.


Architect and designer, Marcel Breuer has taught and lectured in universities and art institutes in the United States and other countries. He is the author of many widely published articles on art and architecture. Important projects of his now being built include: Arts Centre and Theatre, Sarah Lawrence College, New York; Grosse Pointe Public Library, Michigan; and the Airport Terminal buildings at Fairbanks and Anchorage, Alaska.


UNESCO Gift Stamp with UNESCO HeadquartersPier Luigi Nervi, engineer, architect, teacher and writer, has designed and constructed many buildings in Italy, making special use of reinforced concrete. These projects include stadiums, theatres, industrial plants, department stores and aerodrome buildings.


Bernard Zehrfuss, winner of the Rome Grand Prix is architect and adviser to many official and private organizations. Among his recent works are the National Centre for Mechanized Industries, in Paris, the Renault motor car works at Flins and many housing projects in France, Algeria and Tunisia.


Charles Le Corbusier is widely known for his bold architectural conceptions which have materialized in such projects as the city of Chandigarh in India and the ultra-modern building, the cite radieuse, in Marseille, France.


Poster with UNESCO HeadquartersWalter Gropius is one of the pioneers of modern conceptions of architecture and the founder of the famous Bauhaus school in Germany.


Ernesto Rogers has carried out many important town-planning and architectural projects and has taught in several universities.


Sven Markelius is town planner for Stockholm.


Lucio Costa drew up the plans for Brazil’s new capital, Brasilia.


Eero Saarinen is architectural consultant to General Motors.


Eugène Callison, American architect and engineer. The technical construction work at the UNESCO headquarters site was The ceremony for the laying of the first brick was held on 23 November 1955. The photo shows from left to right: the Director general of UNESCO, M. Luther H. Evans, and reading his speech, M. Parra Perrez, Ambassador and Delegate of Venezuela to UNESCO.directed by him.


UNESCO’s new home is the result of their joint efforts.


The ceremony for the laying of the first brick was held on 23 November 1955. The photo shows from left to right: the Director general of UNESCO, M. Luther H. Evans, and reading his speech, M. Parra Perrez, Ambassador and Delegate of Venezuela to UNESCO.


During the ceremony on 3 November 1958, in the presence of René Coty, president of France, and Sarvepalli Radhatrishnan, vice-president of India, the Chairman of the Executive Board, Golan Ali Raadi, used the words of the Persian poet Ferdowsi (935-1020):


The best constructed buildings crumble under the action of the rain and burning sun,

But neither wind nor rain shall have any hold on the monument my verse has built.





Photos from the history of UNESCO: the first headquarters at Avenue Kléber, Paris.

Photos from the history of UNESCO: construction of the new headquarters, 1958.



Stamp catalogue


Tunisia                        3 November 1958









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last revised: 14 February 2008