It's not unusual for the Upper East Side to flare up with preservation battles, but this one trumped the rest in 2014. The Frick Collection's controversial expansion plan, which currently involves replacing a 1970s-built viewing garden (beloved by landscape architects and visitors alike) with a Davis Brody Bond-designed stair-stepped building, continues to attract critics. The proposed renovation, which isn't finalized and will need to earn the Landmarks Preservation Commission's approval before anything happens, would increase the museum's gallery space by 24 percent and its conservation lab facilities by 84 percent; the addition would house an auditorium, classrooms, and administrative offices, freeing up two parts of the original mansion to house exhibitions.
As recently as last week, the Journal summarized the state of the war, citing the high-profile architects (Robert A.M. Stern, Peter Pennoyer) and preservation groups that oppose it. It did cite one informed human, executive director of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects, who saw the merits of the move. And the Frick's latest defender? Journal contributor Julie Iovine, who just penned an op-ed explaining why the Frick's plan isn't all that bad. Maybe she should hire a bodyguard.
The crux of Iovine's argument was that yes, it totally sucks that Russell Page's midcentury landscaping would be sacrificed for the new building. She points out that the museum's grounds have already been altered and revised multiple times since Henry Clay Frick passed away in 1919 and endowed it. Specifically, when adjacent townhouses were bought up and demolished as part of a prior expansion plan, which paved the way for the Page garden, there were opponents then, too: "Change is messy; preservation must be balanced against needs, but also against quality of experience."
Iovine also explains why the Frick needs the space to fulfill its mission as an artistic institution: to display more shows; to manage crowds for popular ones; to transport art safely through an entrance that isn't the front door; to provide greater access to the Frick's existing six-story library, which faces 71st Street, etc. More logic from Iovine, this time about the size of the addition:
The addition steps back as it goes up and will be no taller and just as visible from Fifth Avenue as the six-story library tower—which is to say, not at all. As hulking as it may seem in renderings, the addition is not even as tall as the three townhouses that once stood there. Central Park will be resplendently on view from a new rooftop garden. And as we are in the midst of a landscape renaissance, the opportunity to find a talent as distinguished as Russell Page to design that garden is great. And, perhaps, Page's work doesn't have to be a sacrificial lamb here. The museum, she proposes, could consider having "the 60- by 80-foot garden transplanted to a site in nearby Harlemwhere gardens are truly scarce and people might actually be allowed to sit in it?" Okay, Frick expansion detractors. Your rebuttal comes next.
· In Defense of the Frick [WSJ]
· Flak Over the Frick Collection's Expansion Plans [WSJ]
· Garden Becomes Focal Point of Fight Over Frick Expansion [Curbed]
· Archicritic Calls Proposed Frick Addition 'Banal and Inelegant' [Curbed]
· The Controversial Origins of New York City's Frick Collection [Curbed]
· Frick Collection's Expansion Plan Continues to Rankle NYers [Curbed]
· Renderings Revealed for Proposed Frick Collection Expansion [Curbed]
· All Frick Collection coverage [Curbed]