Ever since George Lucas announced this summer he would build his first-of-its-kind interactive museum of artwork and movie memorabilia in Chicago, the city has been left to wonder what the “Star Wars” creator has in mind for its iconic lakefront.
That ended Monday.
Ma Yansong, the Beijing-based principal designer of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, visited Chicago this week to unveil the first conceptual drawings of the museum — and what he called “a new type of architecture” for the world.
“This is my most important project so far,” Ma told the Chicago Sun-Times.
The drawings portray a flowing, white, sculptural building between Soldier Field and McCormick Place, between Lake Shore and Burnham Harbor drives, crowned with an observation deck that appears like a floating ring. There, Ma said patrons “can see everything around the city.”
“The idea is to make the whole building as a part of (the) landscape,” Ma said, as well as to “create this floating public plaza” above the existing parking lot. The design includes green space, as well as an amphitheater, Ma said.
Inside the seven-story structure, Ma described a “very large dome” that could serve as a multifunctional hall or concert venue. Light would shine down through the observation deck above.
A “very large portion” of the building would be dedicated to education, archive and “a lot of storage for the arts,” Ma said. The hallways of the round building would circle the dome, and patrons could visit a restaurant near the observation deck.
Ma and Lucas Museum Vice President Angelo Garcia said the complexity of the structure they’ve imagined, which is likely to be built of stone, requires three-dimensional computer modeling. Ma said he wants visitors to be drawn in by a smooth, curved design that feels as if the building is part of the lakefront’s landscape.
Though Ma didn’t have “Star Wars” in mind when he designed the museum, he doesn’t completely reject the comparison. “Star Wars”, he said, “shows how people are curious about the future.” And he hopes his museum inspires the same feeling, particularly in young visitors.
“When young people come here, they will feel curious about the future,” Ma said.
Garcia, also president of Lucas Real Estate Holdings, and Mike Toolis, CEO of VOA Associates, said plans for the museum are not likely to go to the City Council until schematic designs are complete — likely in early spring. There’s more work to be done.
Chicago-based VOA will serve as the executive architect and implement Ma’s design. Estimates have put the building’s cost around $400 million, to be funded by Lucas.
“There is no doubt that this generous gift can be a great opportunity to expand the cultural and educational opportunities in Chicago, and be a major draw for visitors from every neighborhood and from around the world,” Adam Collins, a city spokesman, said. “We welcome this initial conceptual design so that Chicagoans can begin to explore a new museum and park on our museum campus.”
Lakefront protectionists have promised to do “what it takes” — even sue — to block Lucas’ new building east of Lake Shore Drive. Ma, Garcia and Toolis said they’ll leave any potential fight up to the lawyers, though they said they want to be sensitive and work alongside these groups.
When the Lucas Museum first announced Ma would serve as its principal designer, local experts applauded the choice. Jonathan Solomon, director of the architecture department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, said Ma belongs to a new generation of Chinese architects who embrace contemporary design but are sensitive to the context in which they’re working.
He and others predicted Ma would bring the same approach to the Lucas museum.
“His work is meant to be experienced from all perspectives,” Dirk Denison, a professor at IIT College of Architecture and founder of Dirk Denison Architects, said.
Ma is no stranger to Chicago. On Monday, he reminisced about his summer internship here in 2000. Asked about his favorite buildings in Chicago, he pointed to three: Willis Tower, the John Hancock Center and Lake Point Tower. Every architectural student knows them, he said. And every weekend, he said he used to walk across the lake and see those “those very impressive buildings.”
Chicago, he said, already has “this great, modern architecture.”
“I was thinking, ‘How can we create something to bring the architecture one step forward?’” Ma said.