No, John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, is not getting his wish: All the vacant floors at the UN's iconic aquamarine-glass headquarters and the trucks removing whole departments to other New York sites do not mean that the top third of the structure is about to be lopped off.
Mr. Bolton, you might recall, once famously quipped that the world wouldn't notice if the UN high-rise lost its top 10 floors.
Instead, the UN "campus," as officials here call it, is getting a top-to-bottom make-over to bring the complex, designed by 20th-century architects Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer, into the 21st century.
Gone will be the asbestos, the firetraps, the leaky ceilings, and the energy inefficiencies by the time the entire $2 billion renovation is completed (expected to be in 2014). Taking their place at the forefront of the international battle against global warming, the renovated UN buildings will cut pre-renovation energy consumption by almost half.
In the meantime, some high-level diplomatic maneuverings are about to take place. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will move before the end of the month from his lofty 37th-floor offices to a stark white, Wal-Mart-big-box-like temporary structure built for the occasion on the campus's north park.
"I don't think he minds taking a temporary office" in a squat, windowless warehouse, "especially when the whole purpose is to give the UN a more efficient building," says a member of Mr. Ban's support staff, noting that Ban has championed the cause of addressing climate change.
Much of Ban's communications staff, on the other hand, will be relegated to basement quarters under the First Avenue UN library.
The Security Council Secretariat will join Ban in the temporary structures – although Security Council sessions are expected to still be held in the existing chambers throughout the updating.
But the General Assembly will decamp to the big boxes as well. Note to Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez, and Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi (should he decide to suffer the jet lag he complained about this year and return to the annual General Assembly opening next September): The podium for your globally watched diatribes will be in a different, less majestic location in 2010.
Architects for the UN renovation say they were mindful of preserving the universally recognizable qualities of the building, including the sense of openness to the world generated by the tower's trademark glass facade.
That attribute is not to be found in the new US mission to the UN, nearing completion directly across First Avenue. The 23-story tower, clothed in concrete, doesn't even have windows for the first seven floors – an obvious tip of the hat to post-9/11 concerns.
Although UN buildings may be getting a 21st-century make-over, some of the institution's entities appear set to remain in the postwar era, when they were created.
A case in point is the Security Council, lorded over by its five permanent members from the victors-of-World War II club: the United States, Russia, China, Britain, and France. The story is told at the UN of the architect for the renovation project who asked if, while envisioning the modernization project, he should plan for an expanded Security Council by designing a larger Council table.
The architect was advised to stick to architecture and steer clear of politics.
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