Renovations at the Frick

Renzo Piano’s 2006 addition to the Morgan Library in New York has to be one of the most egregious examples of inappropriate parasitic architecture in the world. The modernist steel-and-glass box that forms the new entrance and atrium to the complex is a jarring contrast to the original building, designed in 1906 by McKim, Mead, and White.

The Frick, which houses the collection of another Gilded Age financier, is preparing to renovate and expand its gallery space over the next two years. So how do the two approaches compare?

The Morgan and the Frick are both among my five favorite museums in America (the Met, the Morgan, and the Frick in New York; the MFA and the Gardner in Boston) so like all regular visitors I feel a sort of protective instinct toward them.

The Frick has selected Annabelle Selldorf to design the new work, a 160 million dollar project that will open up the second floor (once the private living quarters of the Frick family), renovate the entrance hall, add an auditorium, education center, and new galleries.

A few days ago renderings of the design were published in The New York Times and Curbed. My feelings are mixed. The façade of the seven-story addition is a little too stark in its modernism, though it is tempered by cornices and stone matching the rest of the building. Steel-and-glass boxes have been snuck in unnecessarily. But the interiors appear remarkably sensitive to the Beaux-Arts vernacular of the mansion. The spaces are open and spare but the details are in harmony with the original Carrère and Hastings design of 1912.

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