The new Orientation Center at the Frick.

The Frick Art and Historical Center will debut its new Orientation Center for the first time on Tuesday with a soft opening in advance of this weekend’s grand opening festivities.

The new building, a cozy and pleasant space with glass walls, Pennsylvania sandstone and a slatted wooden roof, is reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s style, yet fits seamlessly into the Frick Pittsburgh’s Gilded-Age landscape and will offer visitors a central starting point for all aspects of the five-and-a-half-acre grounds and its various collections.

“When we started working to determine what visitors here needed, we wanted to approach orientation and learning in all different ways,” says Sarah Hall, the Frick’s director of curatorial affairs. “It’s collection-based, but it’s also designed to be social.”

To that end, the Orientation Center includes a new ticketing desk, a double-sided, interactive map of the grounds, a large reading area with comfortable chairs and sofas, shelves full of books on topics pertinent to the Frick’s collections, and a pair of large, interactive tabletop screens which will allow visitors to learn more about the Frick family, their house, the Gilded Age, Pittsburgh industry and a bevy of other topics.

“We’ve got some very geographically discrete buildings here with collections in different places, so we wanted to integrate the collection thematically,” Hall says, pulling up a category titled “Vive la France.” “This is all about French objects, but they’re not all just at the art museum; they’re at Clayton and the Car and Carriage Museum as well.”

Too often, she adds, museums put information about a particular painting right next to or in front of it. The new system is designed to help visitors learn about these items in advance of seeing them. The interactive screens are complimented by a nearby iPad bar which will run an application called StoryView, offering a large archive of historical tales and accompanying documents, including how the family home was wired for electrical lights before even the White House, and a receipt for the work from the firm of noted local architect, Frederick Osterling.

“There are so many stories connected with the Fricks, but it’s not just about the family,” Hall says. “It’s a chance to show people why we know what we know, and it’s a chance to open up resources for visitors in a way that we just haven’t been able to do before. We can’t wait to watch people using these tools and see how they interact with them.”

The center, which is designed to LEED Silver specifications, will also house the Frick’s new museum store, which until now had been housed in the children’s playhouse along with the ticketing desk. The new space will effectively double the size of the store and allow it to stock more books, art and jewelry from local artisans.

The architectural teams of Schwartz/Silver and Associates of Boston and Pittsburgh-based Loysen + Kreuthmeier designed the new building.

The Orientation Center constitutes the first phase of a three-stage overhaul at The Frick. Phase 2, which will begin in early-to-mid August, will see the construction of a new carriage gallery, a community room and a courtyard between the two. For now, the staff is hopeful that the public will enjoy the new building as they’ve watched it come together.

“I’m just lurking. I can’t stay out of here,” says Frick Director Bill Bodine.

Matthew Wein

Matthew Wein is a local writer, editor, blogger, storyteller and proud native Pittsburgher. Once described as "a man of things," he covers city design, spirits and craft beer for NEXT, where he keeps all...