In this first News page “Faculty Insight” column, Lisa M. Ackerman, executive vice president, World Monuments Fund, and visiting professor, School of Architecture, provides context surrounding The Frick Collection’s recent decision not to pursue its expansion plans in light of public opposition.

What are the criteria that drive preservation decisions?

In the case of the Frick Collection, it has long been a cherished cultural treasure in New York City, often described as a place for intimate communion with a collection of extraordinary paintings, sculpture, and decorative objects. When exploring the Frick’s expansion plan, the greatest surprise for many was the overwhelming sentiment to protect elements of the Frick experience that perhaps were not seen as essential to integrity of the museum experience. In this case, the museum, which is located in a historic setting, must constantly balance caring for historic structures with public presentation and enjoyment of the collections and exhibitions programmed within the buildings.

What role does higher education play in helping organizations find a balance between the competing, diverse needs of development and preservation?

One hopes that higher education encourages a framework for decisions that demonstrate development and preservation are friends not foes. Not every site merits preservation. Similarly development is not in and of itself a solution. Development requires a context. Higher education should be the vehicle through which we all learn the philosophy, case studies, and language with which to express goals in a way that demonstrates preservation and development are elements of resiliency. 

Change is inevitable. How do you temper that change to retain the character of the neighborhood?

The Frick Collection faces many challenges, as the building, grounds, and setting have over time become an important element of visiting and appreciating the history of the mansion and the collections it contains. It is not just what happens inside the walls, but the ambience of the museum that begins with the exterior approach and carries on once visitors are inside the building. As expectations change for what constitutes success for museums, the Frick will continue to need to improve its programmatic offerings to serve its constituencies while maintaining the historic character of the Frick structure in the context of its Upper East Side neighborhood and Fifth Avenue location. In truth we only know if we have been successful in combining change and preserving the character of a place after enough time has gone by to look at how spaces are used and enjoyed and how they contribute to the overall well being of the community.