An Epic Expansion: The Frick Collection

Architectural experts weigh in on the grand ambitions of New York City's Upper East Side grande dame.

On the heels of expansion announcements—­and subsequent Internet vitriol—from museums like New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the much-beloved Frick Collection unveiled its own growth and renovation plan this past June. The glossy renderings showed a towering Beaux-Arts–style addition designed by Davis Brody Bond, the same architecture firm behind the National September 11 Museum.

Once construction begins in 2017, the addition will eventually rise to six stories, the height of the Frick’s library building, and sit on a space currently occupied by a private garden created by British landscape architect Russell Page. While Frick director Ian Wardropper wrote in The New York Times that the addition “will not change the way visitors experience the historic house and masterpieces,” others see it as yet another supersized plan to turn the intimate destination into a mega museum.

We asked critics, architects and others in the design world to give us their thoughts on the museum’s architectural plans. Here’s what they had to say.

Justin Davidson, Architecture critic, New York magazine
“What the Frick urgently needs is a third way, somewhere between slavish reproduction and slavish opposition. There should be a modern equivalent for the craftsmanship, detail and luxury materials of a century ago.”(New York)

Puals Deitz, Editor of The Hudson Review
“Like viewing a masterwork of a landscape painting, pedestrians are enticed to enter the [Russell Page] garden in their imaginations and enjoy its quiet respite as they contemplate it through the iron gates. The Frick Collection should be maintained within the confines of its domestic splendor as originally intended and not lose the garden that complements so completely its architecture.”

Charles A. Birnbaum,President of The Cultural Landscape Foundation
“It’s my hope that…the Frick and other museums, whether or not they are considering expansions, [will] recognize that their collections include their designed landscapes, which are worthy of the same level of curatorial oversight and respect.”

Jeff Speck, Author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time
“In a city and a world of ever-expanding mega-museum experiences, the Frick is a rare oasis of modest charm. Especially now, as MoMA continues to metastasize in apparent imitation of Ikea, art lovers seeking an hour of bliss rely on the Frick for what makes it special: its calm intimacy.”

Allison Arieff, Editorial director at SPUR
“The renderings, I have to say, are a bit too evocative of a McMansion. I really don’t like additions that attempt to mimic the vernacular style of the original, and in this case it feels particularly disingenuous to do.”

Institute of Classical Architecture & Art
“We encourage the museum and its design team to explore further the introduction of new elements in the same style and taste as the existing architecture without necessarily being limited to repeating motifs, elevations and forms already found in the complex.”

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