Helpern Architects

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On May 29th, yet another new plan to expand the Frick Collection was presented to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission [LPC]. It was not given the green light.

Full disclosure: In 2015, Helpern Architects created the conceptual counter-plan for Unite to Save the Frick [USF], the alliance formed to challenge the Frick’s 2014 expansion plan. That effort, among other objectives, would have replaced its enchanting Russell Page-designed garden with a bulky building addition.

Set against the USF/Helpern counter-plan, the 2018 version has not yet addressed some important issues. The overarching one remains: What is “appropriate” for the Frick’s landmarked structure [remembering that this challenge concerns only the building and its grounds]? It still seems difficult for some to unemotionally evaluate “appropriateness” for a popular institution that “needs” to grow. Along with that, many people confuse improvements to the non-designated interior with exterior alteration.

However, the NYC Landmarks Law dictates that the Commission must weigh “the factors of aesthetic, historical and architectural values and significance, architectural style, design, arrangement, texture, material and color.”

In an official statement to the Commission, David Helpern voiced these concerns. “The Frick is entitled to grow as an institution,” he wrote, “but it is doing so yet again at the expense of the garden and the mansion,” which is avoidable. He declared that many public comments have been “focused on access, amenity, and functionality,” but they should only be about the bulk and scale of the additions. He noted that the new drawings “hide that the Frick will lose its sense of place as one of the world’s great house museums,” and stressed that “much more of the program could have been accommodated below grade.”

David’s statement singled out the Library’s bulky southward expansion; the loss of open space as well as the planters atop the rear wall of the garden, which, although it is retained in this version, is diminished as well as darkened; the new two-story expansion over the circular Music Room, to be eliminated; and the flattened Entry Pavilion ceiling and elimination of its high copper roof and fan-shaped termination.

Because zoning changes are required to alter the Frick, the discussion of its expansion will continue – once LPC gives its approval. Then the plan will be considered by the Board of Standards and Appeals, after which it returns to Community Board 8 for its final consideration. [David is co-chair of CB8’s Landmarks Committee.] We welcome your comments directly to David at d.helpern@helpern.com.