Leading Chicago architects rally around Lucas Museum

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McCormick Place East, say board members of the Chicago Architecture Foundation is not an “architectural icon” and should be torn down for the Lucas Museum. | Sun-Times file photo

In Chicago we love our architecture, we love our urban spaces and we love to debate. And debate we have over the site of the proposed Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.

Friends of the Parks have issued a statement rejecting the second proposed site, McCormick Place East. This statement has seemingly brought the debate to an end. Philanthropists George Lucas and his wife, Mellody Hobson, are now seeking a new city to build their self-funded, extraordinary, state-of-the art museum.

Chicago has many architectural icons. McCormick Place East is not one of them. It has always been a large unwelcome building on the lakefront. The Lucas Museum proposal would facilitate the development of 12 additional acres of lakefront parkland by replacing this underutilized facility with a museum designed by one of the world’s leading architecture firms, MAD architects. What is not to like about that?

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We hear so much about design. Since the Chicago Fire, this city has been at the forefront of this discussion. Many of today’s residents still remember when the 1967 Picasso sculpture commissioned for the Richard J. Daley center was initially greeted with controversy, scorn and even ridicule. However, over time it has become an icon of the city and a source of civic pride. It is not unusual for new innovative designs to create debate and spark dialogue. MAD Architects is a world-class design firm that has completed a wide array of award-winning projects from opera houses and museums to residential towers and hotels. Ma Yansong, the firm’s founder, is a leader in the use of technology and innovative materials. Chicago has always been a leader in innovation and we need to continue to lead. The design of the parklands surrounding the Museum will be by our own local firm, Studio Gang. As a pioneer in ecological urbanism and the designer of the new Northerly Island public space, do we not trust Jeanne Gang to do what is best for the city and our lakefront?

The important subject of narrative art gets lost in calling this new venture a “Star Wars museum.”

Narrative art is storytelling. It is the art of sharing a story across diverse cultures and preserving it for future generations. Narrative art uses the power of the visual image to ignite imaginations, evoke emotions and capture truths and aspirations. Why wouldn’t we want Chicago, in the heart of America, to be the location for such a pioneering museum?

Finally, the Lucas Museum is a long-term investment in our city and its citizens. It is projected that in its first 10 years, the museum will create thousands of construction jobs and permanent jobs, bring in more than $2 billion in increased tourist spending, and generate more than $120 million in new tax revenue.

Beyond jobs and revenue we know that our city museums serve as institutions of informal learning for our young people. Why wouldn’t we want to see expanded opportunities for Chicagoans?

Chicago has always been the city of big shoulders and big ideas. We are a vibrant city that has embraced innovation in the past. Now, we need to think boldly and think ahead for future generations and the future of our city — let’s not squander such an incredible opportunity.

Submitted by the architects on the Board of the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

John Pintozzi, Chairman

Lynn Osmond, President and CEO

Gina Berndt

Walt EckenhoffPhil Enquist

Gordon GillNila Leiserowitz

Mike Toolis

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