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The Frick’s Little Noticed “Prized Garden” Saved; Vital Expansion Still Planned

The Frick expansion is dead. Long live the Frick expansion.

Preservationists who fought the planned destruction of the Frick’s 1970s gated “viewing garden,” designed by Russell Page, have gotten their way without ever having to make a formal case to government approval bodies.

Russell Page's 1970s garden at the Frick

Russell Page’s 1970s garden at the Frick

In his reluctantly conciliatory statement released today, Ian Wardropper, the Frick Collection’s director, announced:

After months of public dialogue and thoughtful consideration and weighing the potential for a protracted approval process against the Frick’s pressing needs, the Board of Trustees has decided to approach the expansion plan in a way that avoids building on the garden site….The Frick will immediately begin to develop a new plan that will help us satisfy our critical needs.

This may not satisfy the critics who believe that the Frick’s sense of intimacy will be disrupted by expansion. But the historic spaces are not going to be tampered with and the upstairs rooms will be opened to the public. Anyone who visits the Frick is keenly aware that its existing space is inadequate for its present-day collection, exhibitions, programs and visitor-service requirements.

Think “Goldfinch”:

The one gripe I had against the preliminary (now scotched) expansion plan was that the architects (assuming that their rendering, below, was reliable) opted to slavishly ape the material and detailing of the Frick’s century-old building.


Rendering of the Frick, with a portion of proposed expansion by Davis Brody Bond on the right (seen from 70th Street, looking west)
Courtesy of Neoscape Inc., 2014

“Deference is one thing,” as I wrote a year ago in my otherwise favorable Beaux Arts on Botox post. “Dutifully copying the superannuated Beaux-Arts vocabulary is another.” But Frick spokesperson Heidi Rosenau subsequently assured me that the final plan would be more nuanced and less imitative than indicated by the pedestrian preliminary image. In response to my query today, Heidi told me that the Frick is “continuing to work with Davis Brody Bond [architects for the original proposal] to reevaluate our plans.”

DBB was responsible for the restoration, adaptive reuse and expansion of the flagship Carrère and Hastings building of the New York Public Library (predating Norman Foster’s controversial, ill-fated involvement) and the deservedly praised design of the interior spaces for the 9/11 Memorial Museum. It also was responsible for the Frick’s successful 2011 transformation of an outdoor loggia into its engaging, enclosed Portico Gallery for sculpture and decorative arts.

Needless to say, today’s announcement (first reported last night by Robin Pogrebin of the NY Times) provoked Twitter chatter:

— Christopher Knight (@KnightLAT) June 4, 2015

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