A lot of people have been voicing their distaste for MAD Architect's recently revealed design for Chicago's Lucas Museum, in much the same way people do whenever anything similarly unconventional is unveiled for a major city. But Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin believes their umbrage goes beyond "the typical shock of the new." People are angry, he contends, because they "instinctively get that this cartoonish mountain of a building would be glaringly out of place amid the horizontal sweep of Chicago's lakefront." So this reaction differs from the usual response to formal innovation by being... exactly like it.
It's hard to imagine what else could have been expected from the project. George Lucas hasn't been shy about wanting to make something groundbreaking, and a glance at MAD's recent designs pretty much predicts the organic look of this one. To expect the plan they reached to cleave to the "civic custom" holding that the "buildings that rim the lake or reach into it... hew to its overriding horizontality," is to expect something Lucas was never going to bring to Chicago, and MAD was never going to make for him. Ma Yansong doesn't design cubes, and Lucas, given his track record, clearly never wanted one. Rising starchitects—in the precise meaning of this fraught term, referring to a globe-trotting designer in the Zaha vein—don't often design buildings that are "contextual" in the sense that the public wants. They aren't hired to be aesthetically polite.
Kamin complains that Yansong presented "an abstract outline without convincing details"—well yeah, it's a preliminary rendering. The firm wont be presenting its final proposal to the city for months. To protest the look of the building is to protest the choice of architect, which is essentially to decry Chicago's willingness to entertain Lucas' big plans in the first place. Which are legitimate things to criticize, as is the "mission creep" that found such a needlessly large design proposed for the city's lakefront, accommodating Lucas' desire to pack a silly amount of amenities into the project (an education center, four movie theaters, and a rooftop restaurant). Chicagoans should voice their opinions about exactly how this space might best be used, especially those who don't want a museum there at all.
But to be content with calling Yansong's design a "fumbled essay in 'blob architecture,'" or a set of "nuclear cooling towers" with an unfortunate resemblance to Jabba the Hutt—pick your funny metaphor—without even acknowledging that Chicagoans could warm up to these features, as people have to any number of initially despised, forward-thinking buildings since Modernism? That's just a reaction against the new.
(Also: "Like the bloated Jabba, the building needs to be put on a diet." Dude, why you gotta body-shame Jabba?)
· George Lucas' museum proposal is needlessly massive [Chicago Tribune]
· MAD's Lucas Museum is a Moon Mountain with a 'Floating' Halo [Curbed National]