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Lucas Museum's Waterfront Location Raises Land Use Quest...

Lucas Museum's Waterfront Location Raises Land Use Questions in Chicago, Illinois

The George Lucas Museum of Narrative Art is slated to open in Chicago, Illinois in 2018. Ma Yonsong of MAD Architects produced a sleek and sloping all-white design to house George Lucas’s personal collection of art, valued at over $600 million. The architecture, sloping and organic, is intended to blur the line between man-made and natural, working harmoniously with the

Potential alternative site for Lucas Museum in Chicago at US South Steel Works Potential alternative site for Lucas Museum in Chicago at US South Steel Works.

The George Lucas Museum of Narrative Art is slated to open in Chicago, Illinois in 2018. Ma Yonsong of MAD Architects produced a sleek and sloping all-white design to house George Lucas’s personal collection of art, valued at over $600 million. The architecture, sloping and organic, is intended to blur the line between man-made and natural, working harmoniously with the beauty of the lakeshore. Lucas and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have agreed on their vision for the museum to serve as an iconic structure in the city. Its intended location is currently a parking lot to the south of Soldier Field, the stadium home to the Chicago Bears. However, significant barriers have stood at every step of the way towards its actual construction. Largely, critics have asked: is this the best use for lakeshore land?

Friends of the Parks is a nonprofit whose mission is to “preserve, protect, improve, and promote” public parks in Chicago. They have been one of the loudest voices in opposing the Lucas Museum, taking issue with the museum’s plan to take over lakefront property. The lakefront is beloved by Chicagoans, with its second biggest park, Burnham Park, extending over seven miles along the lake. Friends of the Parks critiques the museum on these grounds, despite the museum’s site currently being a parking lot. While their argument has received much criticism as to the value of a parking lot, their defense includes one important point. The terms of the Lucas Museum’s lease would allow the building to occupy its lot for up to 297 years, costing George Lucas just $10. This price is so low because the city has factored in that the museum will receive no public subsidy. If the parking lot were to be developed into the Lucas Museum, that land would be unchangeable within the scale of any human lifetime, thanks to its contract. In the words of Friends of the Parks, that land would no longer be free access to Chicagoans – they would have to pay admission to enter the space, which, while currently a parking lot, could one day be a park. This is the fundamental opposite of the free access of public parks and in violation of the state’s public trust doctrine. Friends of the Parks has taken the Lucas Museum to court over this infringement.

Potential alternative site for Lucas Museum in Chicago at US South Steel Works Potential alternative site for Lucas Museum in Chicago at US South Steel Works.

And while the Lucas Museum is now considering leaving Chicago due to the current lawsuit, alternatives have been proposed as to not run the museum out of the city entirely. Alderman Susan Sadlowski-Garza of the 10th Ward has identified a new potential site on the Southside of Chicago. The site is a 589-acre plot, home to the old U.S. Steel South Works, now completely devoid of buildings. It is also the site of a recently-abandoned community development project called Lakeside. The site is now guaranteed to be empty, and primed for a museum. However, while this site would provide a large amount of land for the museum’s landscaping goals (including an “eco park” and an “event prairie”), the site fails one important test: proximity to downtown. It is approximately 10 miles south of the Loop, Chicago’s downtown area.  

Although the potential alternative site is nearly a straight shot down Lakeshore Drive, Chicago’s primary highway along Lake Michigan, the distance still throws the building’s iconic vision into question. Still, legal entanglements will keep construction delayed for an unknown period of time, and worthwhile alternate sites are a boon.

Can a building be out of the way and still be a symbol of its city? Are there any iconic buildings in your city that are far from downtown? Does your city have restrictions on land use for areas that include prime real estate, such as the waterfront? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.

Credits: Images by Hannah Flynn. Data linked to sources.

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