In April, the Frick Collection unveiled the first renderings and details about its $160 million expansion designed by Selldorf Architects. Some of the notable features of this expansion include the addition of a 220-seat auditorium below the beloved Russell Page-designed garden, a new education center, a larger museum shop, and—for the first time ever—making the museum’s second floor public.
On Tuesday, the proposed changes will come before the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. But in the lead up to that meeting, some local residents and an advocacy group have sounded alarm bells.
The crux of these concerns lies in the Russell Page garden. In 2014, the Frick employed Davis Brody Bond to design a major expansion for the museum. That design faced intense pushback from preservationists and local residents because it completely did away with the garden. It was ultimately shelved because of the intense scrutiny.
In 2016, the museum decided to take another stab at the expansion and brought on Annabelle Selldorf’s firm. This time around, the focus of the expansion was the garden—it would not be demolished, and instead be distinctly visible from many of the additions the firm had designed for the museum.
Still, concerns remain. Charles Birnbaum, the president of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, has written a letter to LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan that outlines the group’s issues about part of the Page garden being lost during the expansion project.
Renowned landscape architect Laurie Olin has also expressed concerns to the Frick’s board of directors, namely about the expansion’s impact on the northern portion of the garden which contains trees, plants, and a wall with a door. “It is inconceivable to propose to eliminate the northern planting above and beyond the wall that Page used to give an illusion of depth and of a garden beyond it to the north,” Olin wrote in a letter to the board.
Similar concerns were raised during a recent Community Board 8 meeting, at which the CB’s members could not come to a consensus on whether to approve or reject the Selldorf expansion. (A CB recommendation to approve or deny changes to landmarks can influence how the LPC votes on the matter.)
Architecture critics have also weighed in, though more positively than the CB and preservationists: The New York Times’s Michael Kimmelman called the proposed expansion “a boon to art, education, and civic life” in a Tweet, while Paul Goldberger said that “it’s hard to imagine a more sensitive and intelligent plan” than the one Selldorf Architects proposed.
Disappointed @communityboard8 rebuffed @frickcollection's expansion by @SelldorfArch. It's a judicious plan, sensitive to neighbors, the existing architecture and landscape, a boon to art, education and civic life. Details may need tweaking but @nyclandmarks should endorse this.— Michael Kimmelman (@kimmelman) May 15, 2018
For its part, the Frick has committed to continue the discussion with the community and take the various concerns into account.
“The Frick Collection has greatly benefited from public discussions regarding our building project, and indeed the thoughtful plan by Selldorf Architects has taken into account the community’s concerns and is much stronger as a result,” a spokesperson for the museum said in a statement to Curbed. “We look forward to continuing these discussions and to the upcoming public hearing at the Landmarks Preservation Commission.”
The public meeting on the Frick’s expansion will be held on Tuesday, May 29, beginning around 9:50 a.m. at the Landmarks Preservation Commission at 1 Center Street.