This Homely Vanity Museum Must Not Be Built

Chicago is in the midst of a great controversy – again. This time the arguments are over the validity and appropriateness of a new museum to be constructed on Chicago’s lakefront. The building in question is the planned Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, and both its siting and design are being called into serious question.

Artists rendering of the planned Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. (Photo: Rob Hart, San Francisco Chronicle)

Artists rendering of the planned Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. (Photo: Rob Hart, San Francisco Chronicle.)

Billionaire filmmaker George Lucas wishes to house his personal collection of movie memorabilia and art in a futuristic-looking building on Chicago’s treasured lakefront; the building and its landscaping will occupy some 17 acres. He is looking to house this collection in a structure to be located just south of Soldier Field and is seeking to sign a lease with the city for the whopping sum of ten dollars for a lengthy 99 years—a sweet deal indeed. Rightly so, the deal, the design, and the site for the museum have all come under considerable criticism by various city factions, non-profit organizations, prominent architecture critics, and the public at large.

The creator of the Star Wars movie chose an architect over a year ago named Ma Yansong to design his personal palace of pretentiousness. The Beijing-based architect dreamt up a structure resembling the gelatinous alien life form featured in the 1958 cult classic movie The Blob. This is one “spatial experience” that Chicago can do without.

I believe the planned building is an inappropriate design for an ill-conceived site. As currently planned, the Lucas Museum is a hideous pile, a melted headstone of a building, a lost amoeba searching for a mate. This behemoth is to be clad in a white-colored stone and is to rise almost to the height of the nearby Soldier Field. The choice of white stone for this undulating enclosure system is questionable on many fronts, one being the appropriateness or the very nature of the material for such a use, the expected discoloration due to pollution, and the sustainability of the material due to Chicago’s winters. Making stone do gymnastics over a lumpy metal undercarriage is an invitation for wall failure; wavy stone surfaces invite thermal expansion and contraction problems, water leakage, cracking and chipping, and a host of sealant issues. Employing noble materials like granite, marble, or travertine in such a manner is downright scary. Those issues notwithstanding, this planned museum’s anticipated exterior remains ugly and uninspiring.

The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, a vanity box to be sure, promises to be less an art museum than a giant, shallow-based (some contend), tourist trap for the masses. This monstrosity is planned to be shoehorned into an already visually noble collection of buildings; the classicism of the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler planetarium—an art deco prize—and the giant Soldier Field lifts the design bar for any new addition to this Museum Campus of delightful and respected buildings. The nearby Mies-inspired design of McCormick Place, an exoskeleton landmark of steel and glass, will make a mockery of the Lucas lump. The bombastic Lucas will stick out like a proverbial sore thumb in contrast to its neighbors, and it promises to contribute nothing to its neighborhood.

Then there is the very serious question of the legality of the site upon which the blob is planned to sit. This was to be a forever open land of grasses and trees, an unencumbered lakefront site to be devoted to the public and to nature in the form of parkland. Although a portion of the site is now devoted to Chicago Bears fans partying and parking, no bumptious building blocks the Lake Michigan view from walkers, joggers, and from those travelers on South Lake Shore Drive. No insensitive amorphous-shaped blob of 400,000 square feet rising some 150 feet can be delicately inserted into the already-achieved harmony of other landmarked structures.

The current design of the planned Lucas Museum is simply cartoonish and decidedly horrible. The site of this beast is all wrong. Chicago deserves better, much better. The Lucas Museum of Narrative art deserves nothing less than demolition before it is built!

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