Lucas Picks a Pair of Rising Starchitects for His Chicago Lakefront Museum


They wanted iconic.  They wanted different.  And it seems the people behind the proposed Lucas Museum of Narrative Art have picked talent matching those parameters to design the new museum on Chicago’s Lakefront.



First up is a known local quantity.  Jeanne Gang burst onto Chicago’s architectural scene with her beautiful-on-the-outside, mediocre-on-the-inside tower Aqua (225 North Columbus Drive).  Aqua’s undulating balconies immediately caught the imagination of the public the way one of those moving, interactive desk toys they used to sell at Spencer’s Gifts in the 80’s.    The magic was in its simplicity.  The first time you see Aqua, it’s wonderful.  Then your brain starts to pick the pieces of the puzzle apart and it becomes even better.  Construction was no breeze, but the result is, perhaps, Chicago’s most iconic buildings of this century.

Absolute Towers in Mississauga, Ontario. Photo by n.karim [CC-BY-2.0]

Absolute Towers in Mississauga, Ontario. Photo by n.karim [CC-BY-2.0]

The other part of the team is Ma Yansong.  A Chinese native who made a splash with a pair of wavy skyscrapers in Mississauga, Ontario— a Canadian town about the size of what’s left of Detroit.  His work is called Absolute World, but is more misogynistically  known as the Marilyn Monroe towers.

Ma, and his architecture firm, MAD Architects, will shape the museum, while VOA Associates will bring it to life.  You may remember VOA from such unusually-shaped Chicago structures as Roosevelt University’s 32-story vertical campus on South Wabash Avenue in The Loop.

Ms. Gang, meanwhile, will be responsible for the surrounding area, including gardens and some kind of enormous pedestrian bridge connecting the museum to 18th Street.  This is going to be some kind of spectacle because the bridge has to be high enough for sailboats to pass beneath on their way to Burnham Harbor.  It is unlikely to be a moving bridge because that would require near-constant operation CDOT staff during those months that Lake Michigan is a liquid.

Of course, the big question remains “What will the new museum look like?”  Fortunately, for once, we won’t have to wait very long.  Officially, the design will be revealed in “late 2014,” but we’ve heard it may be seen as early as fall.  All of this assumes that the people who think this section of Grant Park should remain a surface parking lot instead of a museum are successful in their threatened court challenges to the project.

For more information, the Lucas museum’s press release follows:

CHICAGO (July 28) – Following a global search, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art (LMNA) announced today that Beijing-based MAD Architects has been selected as the principal designer for the LMNA site while Chicago-based Studio Gang will design the landscape and create a bridge to connect the LMNA to Northerly Island. VOA Associates, based in Chicago, will serve as the executive architect and lead the implementation of MAD’s design.

“We are bringing together some of the top architects in the world to ensure that our museum experience begins long before a visitor ever enters the building,” said George Lucas, founder of the LMNA. “I am thrilled with the architectural team’s vision for the building and the surrounding green space. I look forward to presenting our design to the Chicago community.”

The LMNA considered several different architects from around the globe. MAD Architects was chosen because of its innovative approach to design and the firm’s philosophy of connecting urban spaces to natural landscapes. Amsterdam-based UNStudio was the runner-up for the principal design role.

Ma Yansong, the founder of MAD Architects, will be responsible for the design and overall concept of the LMNA building. In seeking to connect the interior and exterior worlds, Mr. Ma has designed some of the most innovative buildings in the world including Absolute Towers in Ontario, Canada, the Ordos Museum in Ordos, China and Chaoyang Park Plaza in Beijing, China.

“It is a gift to be able to design the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in a city so rich with architectural history,” said Mr. Ma, a graduate of the Yale School of Architecture. “I am humbled and honored to be given this opportunity to create a timeless design that moves and inspires people just like Mr. Lucas’ collection.”

To connect the LMNA to neighboring Northerly Island, a bridge will be built by the LMNA, at no cost to the City of Chicago. Jeanne Gang, who has spent the past four years transforming Northerly Island from an airport runway to an oasis of greenery, will design the bridge and lead the landscape design for the LMNA.

“We are excited to build upon our current work and collaborate to create a seamless transition between the Museum Campus and Northerly Island,” said Ms. Gang, a MacArthur Fellow. “In keeping with the Northerly Island ethos, our design goal will be to create a combined ecological and urban habitat.”

VOA Associates, whose designs include Roosevelt University’s 32-story vertical campus in downtown Chicago and the Swedish Embassy in Washington, D.C., will implement Mr. Ma’s design. “We will take the concept design and create a digital sculpture that will serve as the blueprint for construction,” said Michael Toolis, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, VOA Associates. “Each aspect of the museum will be digitally created using technology that enables us to test daylight, create interactive models and examine how the design performs in different environments.”

The design for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art will be introduced in late 2014.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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