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The avant-garde’s defense of the mountainous blob that Star Wars creator George Lucas wants to erect on Chicago’s lakefront speaks volumes about all that’s wrong with architecture today: a celebration of object-making at the expense of public space, plus a shameless coddling of the powerful, provided they serve one’s aesthetic agenda. The defenders of the proposed Lucas museum, who include Frank Gehry and critic Michael Sorkin, still want to party like the recession never hit. Superrich clients! Icons! The Bilbao effect!
They need to sober up.
The field for this battle is Chicago‘s greatest public space, a nearly 30-mile-long chain of parks and beaches along Lake Michigan. Outsiders often fail to grasp the complementary contrast between the lakefront and the Loop. The shoreline is both a forecourt for Chicago’s man-made topography of skyscraper cliffs and canyons, and a realm unto itself. Chicagoans prize the sacrosanct front yard for its open spaces and a sweeping horizontal gestalt that encompasses the lake as well as the land and buildings that rim it.
For more than a century, visionaries like mail-order mogul A. Montgomery Ward have fought to preserve the lakefront from well-meaning incursions that would forever compromise its character. MAD Architects’ design for the $300 million Lucas Museum of Narrative Art—unveiled last November and planned to house an eclectic collection of Realist paintings, “Star Wars” memorabilia, and digital art—is simply the latest would-be invader. At a projected 400,000 square feet, it’s a needlessly massive intruder—four times the size of the banal Beaux Arts museum Lucas originally proposed for San Francisco’s Presidio. When those plans were rejected, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel lured Lucas to the prime Chicago lakefront site. ….