starchitect wars

Meet the surprisingly avant-garde architects designing George Lucas’s Chicago museum

July 28, 2014
Obsession
Design
July 28, 2014

George Lucas gave the first inkling today of what his controversial museum in Chicago might look like when it opens in 2018. Ma Yasong, of the Beijing-based MAD Architects, will design the main building of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. Jeanne Gang, who runs local firm Studio Gang, will handle the landscape design and a pedestrian bridge.

The choices immediately raised eyebrows in architecture circles. The Star Wars director’s art collection is a kitschy assemblage of Americana and white-bread commercial work; the original proposal for the museum, in San Francisco’s Presidio, reflected that conservatism in its neoclassical form. But Ma—a rising star in China and, increasingly, the West—favors swelling, futuristic towers that practically drip with the algorithms used to design them. Gang is a well-regarded architect best known for Chicago’s Aqua skyscraper, a residential tower whose facade undulates like fabric.

“I, and I’m sure many others, were indeed expecting a more conservative architecture team,” Alexandra Lange, a prominent architecture critic, told Quartz. “Rewatching Episodes 1-3 (as I recently did) is a Where’s Waldo of early 20th-century architecture, with references to Frank Lloyd Wright, Art Deco trains, and one of Lucas’s favorite painters, Maxfield Parrish, who never met a neoclassical loggia he didn’t like.”

But Lucas already had a bruising fight over the proposed San Francisco design (which was rejected in February), and he faces substantial opposition in Chicago: Bears fans are worried about lost parking, aldermen want the site relocated to a poorer neighborhood, and activists argue that the museum will threaten public space near Lake Michigan. The choice of Ma and Gang could be a canny one if it convinces Chicagoans that they’ll be getting a landmark.

“If the architects produce a design gem that upgrades the landscape of the Museum Campus, the cluster of shoreline museums to which the Lucas Museum would belong, it could soften, or at least blunt, opposition,” writes the Chicago Tribune’s architecture critic, Blair Kamin.

“The choice of MAD and Jeanne Gang may indicate some sort of coming together between retro-futurism and today’s futurism, linked by a love of curves and ripples,” Lange says. “I also think Lucas is good at politics, and knows what works in the Presidio isn’t going to fly in Chicago.”

The Los Angeles Times’ architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne, argues that Lucas has overshot in the other direction, describing the selection as an “odd, lurching overreaction.”

The design will be unveiled at the end of the year, and the museum is scheduled to open four years later.

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