The Frick finally gains approval for expansion plans. New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 6-to-1 in favour of the controversial $160 million renovation.
The Frick Collection has been trying to gain approval for its expansion plans for a considerable time. The last hearing in May ended in a stalemate so plans were put on hold.
Now the revised scheme has gained approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). The expansion has been designed by Selldorf Architects with Beyer Blinder Belle (BBB) acting as executive architects.
The Frick Collection is home to a world class collection of old masters. Highlights include Jean-Honoré Fragonard‘s masterpiece The Progress of Love and three Vermeers. It is based at Henry Clay Frick House on the Upper East Side in Manhattan, New York City. It houses the collection of industrialist and philanthropist Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919).
The LPC vote followed an intense public hearing. Selldorf Architects have made amendments to their designs and the public were shown revised floor plans and architectural renderings. Ian Wardropper, director of the Frick, and architect Annabelle Selldorf addressed concerns raised by members of the public. They also responded to advocacy groups Unite to Save the Frick and Stop Irresponsible Frick Development.
The sticking points have been mainly around the preservation of Russell Page Garden and the museum’s circular music room. The advocacy groups wanted these to be classified as landmarks.
“We’re pushing and pulling,” said Selldorf in her presentation to the committee. Renovation plans have been amended to retain the north wall (part of the garden’s original plan). She pointed out however that this would undoubtedly compromise the work spaces for staffers. She warned that any further changes would wreck the viability of the entire plan.
Flat paintings on curved walls
The music room also remains controversial. The circular chamber has been used up until now to host concerts and private events. However the renovation plans seek to transform the room into a gallery for special exhibitions. It would have access to the new conservation laboratories, to be installed directly above. The Committee asked if it were possible to spare the circular footprint of the room, regardless of its future use. Wardropper responded by saying that “hanging flat paintings on curved walls” created a logistical difficulty.
Stop Irresponsible Frick Development includes Martha Frick Symington Sanger, great-granddaughter of Frick Collection founder Henry Clay Frick who has previously written in The New York Times: “Let us engage an independent professional to evaluate the feasibility of excavation for proposed new facilities. Revisit the possibility of modernizing and repurposing existing underground facilities; purchase the adjacent, 6,000-square-foot building that is currently on the market for less than 10 percent of the anticipated cost of the current proposal; and seek landmark status for the music room, which could just as easily be preserved as a gallery.”
Members of the LPC were also interested to explore the possibility of extending underground to a greater extent. They argued that this could save the iconic facade of the historic building. However, the plan gained their approval with six votes for and one against (one commissioner abstained).
According to the Frick, construction will not start until 2020, however there may still be hurdles ahead. The Architects Newspaper notes that there remains an active Request for Evaluation (RFE) to designate the Music Room as an interior landmark which is currently being processed. If the RFE is approved, the expansion scheme will have to be reworked to include a circular music room.