When the Frick Collection announced plans to expand with a giant six-story addition, the opposition was swift and strong, and it's only growing. Today, New York Times archicritic Michael Kimmelman throws his weight behind the anti-expansion team, saying the addition would be "another self-inflicted wound." He says "there are other options" and calls the Frick the "city's truest anti-MoMA," meaning that it hasn't tried (or wanted to) gobble up all of the space around ituntil now, of course. Though instead of razing a beloved building, the Frick wants to erase its gated garden on East 70th Street. Kimmelman thinks the garden, designed by British landscape architect Russell Page, should be saved at any cost.
The garden occupies a slice of land that used to hold a townhouse. The Frick picked up and demolished the house thinking that some day it would expand onto the property, but they hired Page to make the space pretty in the interim. He designed is as a "tableau," a space not to be entered, but to look at from the street and the Frick's entrance hall. Kimmelman calls it "one of those little New York treasures" and notes that it "sets apart the mansion, reveals its layered additions, dapples the Frick in shade."
The proposed expansion, which Kimmelman dramatically calls "a tower," would be built on top of this garden, expanding the Frick's library building on 71st Street to the east, linking it with the main building on 70th Street. "The proposal looks banal and inelegant, extruding the library and the 70th street facade," writes Kimmelman. "The Frick has chosen to continue in Beaux-Arts style as if that might make the imbalanced bulk of its plan seem less obtrusive. In the right architects' hands, maybe it could. In this case, it doesn't."
So what does Kimmelman think they should do instead?
It could open those second- floor rooms, swap the music room for a bread-and-butter exhibition gallery and build a new, larger auditorium under the Page garden, which could then be put back as it is. That's already a pretty radical step. The museum could also redo the mediocre 1970s ticket pavilion and explore adding a modest floor or two atop that new exhibition gallery, an idea Frick officials contemplated half a dozen years ago but abandoned because they thought it would get knocked down by the landmarks commission. The current proposal seems far less circumspect.
He also suggests that they might want to buy the townhouse next to the garden or just completely redo the interior of the library building to, of course, save the Page garden.
· The Case Against a Mammoth Frick Collection Addition [NYT]
· The Frick Collection coverage [Curbed]
· The Controversial Origins of New York City's Frick Collection [Curbed]
Photo courtesy of Flickr user t-mizo