Appropriate design alternatives exist that would allow the Frick Collection to modernize without destroying its famed, landmarked Russell Page Garden and Reception Hall Pavilion. Successful modernization of historic museums has been done thoughtfully both locally and abroad.
Interior of the new below-grade visitor arrival concourse at the Maurishuis Royal Picture Gallery, The Hague, the Netherlands. Via Architectural Record.
Precedents for museum expansion design have allowed institutions to grow while preserving significant architectural elements of their historic structures.
Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis in The Hague
In the Netherlands, the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis in The Hague dug down, nestling expansion space underground, resulting in a renovation that “actually doubles the size of the museum without spoiling its allure.”
“This project was all about logistics. It is more about organizing and cleaning up than about design …”
— Architect Hans van Heeswijk to Architectural Record, February 2015
The Frick’s current proposal calls for a below-grade auditorium, which they have considered in the past, according to a 2010 New York Times article. The article describes the enclosure of the north portico for additional gallery space, noting that the Frick had also “considered more grand schemes, including underground galleries beneath its Fifth Avenue garden …”
Excavation and below-grade expansion seamlessly connects the historic Mauritshuis to its adjacent annex, without negatively impacting the original residence.
British Museum in London
The significant below-grade expansion at the British Museum in London.
The significant below-grade build-out by London’s British Museum has been noted as the expansion that “virtually nobody knows about … because the expansive new facility, which was designed by the firm of star architect Richard Rogers, is completely tucked into the gap between the sprawling institution’s older buildings, and buried beneath its floors.” (artnet.com, July 2014)
The additional space extends 20 metres (or about 65 feet) before grade, rendering approximately 70% of the complex hidden below ground. (The Guardian, July 2014)
The Morgan Library & Museum in New York City
“Of the 69,400 square feet of new space, 43,300 will be underground, in an auditorium seating about 280 people and a vault hewn from bedrock. ‘There is no better place to preserve books forever than Manhattan schist.’” — Architect Renzo Piano, to the Landmarks Preservation Commission
Located on Madison Avenue (between 36th and 37th Streets), the former private library of J.P. Morgan (designed McKim, Mead & White; 1906) was renovated in 2006 by Renzio Piano Building Workshop. To minimize the visual impact of the project, substantial below-grade excavation was used.
Architect’s section drawing of the below-grade auditorium at the renovated Morgan Library and Museum.
“Blasting through 50 feet of bedrock, [ Piano] adds book vaults and a 280-seat theater underground, minimizing the visual scale of his project.” — New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff, April 2006
The underground build-out accommodated a range of funcitonal needs (some of which have also been described by the Frick as desirous), including:
- Greater and improved storage space for rare materials,
- A Reading Room that meets the needs of today’s technology,
- More space to show more of the treasures from the collections,
- A larger, fully equipped auditorium and other facilities for the lectures, concerts, and educational programs that are central to the Morgan’s mission,
- A more welcoming entrance to accommodate increased visitorship and,
- Improved internal circulation and handicap accessibility.
Master Plan for the Philadelphia Museum of Art
This as-yet unrealized plan is the work of internationally renowned architect Frank Gehry. Known for his signature undulating facades — highly visual — Gehry refrained from any above-ground construction. Rather, he proposes to carve out space from within and underneath the institution’s “guts” to achieve a long-term plan for 55,000 square feet of new gallery space.
Section of the planned underground expansion of the Philadelphia Museum of Art,
as designed by architect Frank Gehry.
Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum, in New York City
In New York City, the Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum’s strategy was to give over as much as the historic mansion as possible to gallery space and relegate administrative and back-of-house functions to adjacent townhouses.
The Frick has this same opportunity with the immediately-adjacent Berry-Hill Galleries, currently available for purchase. According to a July 20th , 2007 New York Times article, “When it learned that the Berry-Hill space was for sale, the Frick considered trying to raise money to expand its galleries there, but a Frick representative said in an e-mail message that the “acquisition of the Berry-Hill Gallery is not under consideration at this time.”
View from 90th Street, across the spacious garden to the historic Carnegie Mansion
(now the Cooper Hewitt)
We urge the Frick trustees to consider their many other options and to withdraw the museum’s proposal for expansion, which would irreparably damage the unique sense of intimacy that defines the Frick experience.
We call upon our government officials to oppose the Frick’s expansion plan and deny approval to destroy two essential city, state and nationally-landmarked elements and replace them with the equivalent of an 11-story tower.