A new $400 million museum complex that will house the private collection and movie memorabilia of Star Wars film director George Lucas might as well be circling the earth. At present, the project has no home. While slated for a lakefront site near Chicago’s Soldier Field, mounting criticism over the museum’s design and a lawsuit from a local parks group objecting to the private project being built on public parkland may have the project going elsewhere. While Lucas holds out hope that things will work out in Chicago, he told the Los Angeles Times in January, “that it is still a possibility that Chicago will not be able to do it.” If that happens the project will likely land in California. Both Los Angeles and Oakland have expressed interest in the project.
Designed by Ma Yansong of MAD architects, the museum as envisioned is a seven- storey domed structure topped with a halo-like observation deck. Rising to a height of 100 feet and built of stacked stones, it will bring a daring new identity to Chicago’s lakefront. And that is precisely the concern. Ever since the design for the museum was unveiled in November, the project has been hammered with negative criticism ranging from it being compared to a UFO and called the “wrong project in the wrong place.” But the harshest criticism has come from Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin, who objects to the project on contextual grounds. “There is a reason for the widespread public revulsion to the project,” said Kamin. “This isn’t the shock of the new. People are mad because they instinctively get that this cartoonish mountain of a building would be glaringly out of place.” Mincing no words Kamin called the project, “a fumbled essay in blob architecture.”
In an effort to calm the architectural waters, the usually quiet Frank Gehry, who designed the Pritzker bandshell in Chicago’s Millennium Park, came to the design’s defense. In an open letter to the Tribune, Gehry said he finds “the outpouring of negative sentiments troubling to read.” Noting that Chicago is a great city for architecture that has historically supported innovative work, Gehry said the practice of deriding early design schemes is nothing new. He cites his own Disney Concert Hall and Guggenheim Museum Bilbao as among the projects that have had early critics and begged the people of Chicago to give the Lucas Museum a chance.
The fate of the project rests on the outcome of the lawsuit and how well Lucas can stomach delays. The last time the filmmaker faced opposition to a project was in 2012. He was trying to expand his studio in Marin County, California to make it fully functioning for the next Star Wars movie. When told by the county board of supervisors that they wanted to study the project for a couple of years Lucas reportedly told the officials “to hell with it”.
By Sharon McHugh