USF Releases Frick Modernization Alternatives to Advance Dialogue

Coalition Advocating for Preserving Famed Intimacy of Frick Collection Releases Elegant, Responsible Options for Modernization

Conceptual plan for Frick expansion by Unite to Save the Frick architect David Helpern delivers desired functionality, celebrates Russell Page Garden and
Reception Hall Pavilion

NEW YORK, NY—Thursday, July 14, 2015—Faced with broad-based opposition to its ill-conceived expansion proposal, New York City’s Frick Collection announced on June 3, 2015, that it would abandon its initial plan and return to the drawing board.

The contested proposal, which called for replacing the Frick’s beloved Russell Page Garden and Reception Hall Pavilion with a 106-foot-tall tower, was resisted by thousands worldwide who felt the addition would destroy the intimate scale of the landmarked Gilded Age residential gallery. Unite to Save the Frick — a group including prominent architects, authors and art world luminaries, landscape architects and horticultural societies, preservationists, historians, civic leaders and organizations, with support from more than 6,000 individuals via an online petition — called upon the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to deny the plan and urged Frick leadership to explore design alternatives that would allow it to modernize without destroying these landmark elements that make the collection unique.

Unite to Save the Frick has collaborated with architect David Helpern to explore creative ways to meet the Frick’s programmatic desires. These alternative plans are now available online at They showcase some of the many possible paths forward for the Frick Collection. In sharing these concepts, USF hopes to assist the Frick’s leadership as it considers creative ways for this nationally-significant landmark site to modernize, while preserving its landmark elements.

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While the Frick’s June 3rd announcement was encouraging, it stopped short of a firm commitment to fully preserve the existing Russell Page Garden, and did not address the fate of its complementary Reception Hall Pavilion. As the Frick considers a revised approach, Unite to Save the Frick (USF) remains vigilant, seeking engagement with Frick leadership together with public input and discussion.

Exploring Alternatives for the Frick to Modernize Without Destroying Landmarks

Unite to Save the Frick identified three ways by which the Frick might expand without destroying the Page Garden or the Pavilion: 1) Reconfigure the Frick’s existing warren of spaces now occupied by outdated mechanical equipment and inefficient storage areas; 2) Excavate below-grade, precedents for which exist in museums in NYC and around the world; 3) Lease or acquire off-site space for offices, storage and/or conservation. Use of off-site premises is a common practice for art collections and museums, and would allow the Frick to convert its historic residence’s second floor offices to gallery space right now.

Architect David Helpern, who recently received the 2015 AIANY Design Award for his work on the restoration and renovation of the Nave of Yale University’s Sterling Memorial Library, undertook to develop an alternative concept. As co-chair of the local Manhattan Community Board 8’s Landmarks Committee, Helpern is extremely familiar with the NYC Landmarks Law and the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The USF alternative plan is the result of Helpern’s rigorous research on the Frick’s existing space. He has consulted with one of the City’s top structural engineers to ensure excavation and structural changes are feasible, and with mechanical engineers who have worked on museum renovations. The alternative proposes expansion below-grade, similar to concepts at the British Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Frick’s sister museum Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery in The Hague, Netherlands. Refined spatial efficiency, as was achieved at the redesigned Cooper Hewitt, is a feature of the alternative plan.

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Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director of the Historic Districts Council and a founding member of the Unite coalition said: “The intimacy of entering the Frick through the reception hall, viewing Russell Page’s Garden and moving into the galleries to experience the remarkable art in a domestic setting is a unique visual experience in New York City. Fifty years of protecting New York City landmarks have shown the wisdom of treating our built heritage with care and respect – preserving historic environments such as the Frick adds immeasurably to the collective life of the City. David Helpern’s Unite to Save the Frick plan demonstrates evolutionary possibilities for the Frick while honoring the history and sustaining the irreplaceable environment created by the collection’s art, architecture and landscape.”

“We undertook to thoroughly and diligently re-think the proposed expansion of the Frick,” said architect David Helpern. “Our conceptual plan proves that the Frick can modernize, and also preserve the Russell Page Garden, the Pavilion, and the intimate relationship between them. In essence, Unite to Save the Frick’s plan maintains the scale of Mr. Frick’s fine residence – and enables the Frick Collection to both achieve its educational mission and improve functionality.”

In developing his alternative approach for the Frick’s modernization, Helpern preserves the experience of the Frick as a freestanding historic residence. His guiding principles were to preserve the landmarked Russell Page Garden and Reception Hall Pavilion, accommodate the Frick’s desired program, minimize visual impact on the landmarked site, optimize use of existing space, improve access for those with disabilities, and modernize building systems. In his conceptual planning, David Helpern prioritizes and reconfigures underutilized spaces within the Frick. As a result, the plan proposes more than 76,000sf of renovated space and an unobtrusive 9,000sf of contextual above-ground new construction — an approach that preserves the experience of the Frick as a freestanding historic residence.

“New York City is full of solid streetscapes and the Frick is one of the few New York landmarks that is not embedded in the fabric of the streetwall,” said Peter Pennoyer, preservation architect. “Helpern’s concept is successful because it respects the residence as a freestanding monument, akin to the Cooper Hewitt and the New York Public Library. The Helpern alternative provides the Frick with the space it says it needs, while preserving the masterful composition of the Page Garden and the Pavilion by architects Harry van Dyke and John Barrington Bayley, an ensemble that enhances the experience of the Frick as a Gilded Age mansion.”

Unite to Save the Frick Alternative Plan – Key Components

Education and public programming is at the heart of the USF alternative plan, with a large Education Concourse featuring a 220-seat auditorium, new gallery space, an enlarged reception area, improved ADA access throughout the Frick, as well as the option of a cafe. A summary of components follows:

Education Concourse Level – In the USF alternative, the concourse level is used as an education complex. Unlike the Frick’s proposed tower, this education space benefits from horizontal adjacencies acknowledged to to be superior for learning environments. This level would include a 220-person auditorium, classrooms, areas for the display of special exhibits, flexible programming space that could be used for lectures and meetings, as well as related support areas.

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New Gallery Space

  • Historic Second Floor Residential Rooms Converted from Offices to Galleries – The alternative plan proposes the creation of four new publicly-accessible galleries on the second floor, achieved by converting five rooms currently utilized as offices.
  • Music Room Converted to Gallery – As in the Frick’s proposal, the circular room is squared off and converted into a gallery. David Helpern notes that the Music Room could remain circular.

Reception Hall / Connection to Art Reference Library: The USF alternative plan contemplates an expanded reception area in the existing Pavilion, enhanced by its visual connection to the preserved Page Garden. This plan would enable public access to areas such as the enlarged gift shop and a cafe without requiring purchase of a ticket to the Collection.


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  • Enlarged Reception Hall – USF’s plan provides for more spacious guest arrival and increased connection between the galleries and the Frick Art Reference Library. This entryway flows into a reconfigured space connecting to the arrival area of the Frick Art Reference Library and 71st Street. A new, expanded coat check area is added where the Pavilion meets the Art Reference Library.
  • Expanded Gift Shop – Accessed from the enlarged reception area, the gift shop runs along the north wall of the Page Garden (currently occupied by a mechanical yard). The blind arches in the existing north garden wall can be opened to provide natural light as well as views of the garden from the enlarged shop.
  • Option for Cafe – The USF plan accommodates the option of a cafe on the second floor of the modest addition, its windows looking out over the Page Garden. It is separated from the galleries to prohibit transfer of food and beverage


  • Conservation Facilities – Per the Frick’s wishes, the plan includes modernized conservation facilities (for small Collection items) as well as photography conservation for the Library.
  • New study space – Per the Frick’s stated desires, the plan creates new study space for visitors to the Collection and the Frick Art Reference Library.
  • New Offices – The Helpern plan creates additional office space desired by the Frick.


  • Updated ADA access – Key upgrades include creation of new ADA access on 71st Street, via the Frick Art Reference Library, as well as upgrades to ADA arrival points on East 70th Street.
  • Enhanced Elevator System – To enable elevator access to all public floors of the Frick Collection.
  • Updated Life/Safety Services – Updates to all life-safety services and egress throughout the entire Frick site.
  • Service area and freight elevator – A new service area and freight elevator would service both the Frick Collection and the Library.
  • Consolidation of Mechanical Systems – Updates and consolidation of mechanical systems, as well as optimizing storage, workshops and staff support spaces.

About Unite to Save the Frick

Unite to Save the Frick includes prominent architects, landscape architects, preservationists, garden advocates, authors, historians, civic leaders speaking out in favor of responsible modernization at the Frick: Robert A.M. Stern, architect and Dean of the Yale University School of Architecture; Peter Pennoyer, architect; New York chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects; landscape architects Ken Smith and M. Paul Friedberg; Andrew Scott Dolkart, architectural historian and Director of Columbia University’s masters program in Historic Preservation; the Historic Districts Council; Martha Frick Symington Sanger, author and great-granddaughter of Henry Clay Frick; Garden Club of America; Madison Cox, garden designer; architectural historian Victoria Newhouse; Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, founder, Central Park Conservancy and Foundation for Landscape Studies;Annette de la Renta, philanthropist; Defenders of the Historic Upper East Side; Roberta Gratz, author and former LPC Commissioner; artists Jeff Koons, Chuck Close, John Currin, Rachel Feinstein, Frank Stella, Cindy Sherman, and Richard Prince; and many more individuals and organizations who remain committed to preserving the architecture, landscape and unique character of the landmarked Frick Collection.

Twitter: @savethefrick
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