What’s Behind George Lucas’s MAD Choice for His New Museum?

The “Star Wars” creator had an aesthetic change of heart when he chose Beijing-based MAD Architects to design his new museum.

With the recent selection of architects for his proposed lakefront museum in Chicago, filmmaker George Lucas has proven to possess remarkably flexible taste. His aesthetics could best be described as “situational.” You’ll recall: his rejected proposal in San Francisco, a lumbering Beaux Arts knockoff, had fans of contemporary architecture in the Bay Area rolling their eyes.

But now, as opposition to Lucas’s Museum of Narrative Art begins to stir in Chicago, the Star Wars creator has taken a sharp aesthetic turn, hiring Ma Yansong of the Beijing-based MAD Architects to design the proposed building, and homegrown MacArthur Genius Jeanne Gang to envision the landscape. Gang will also design a pedestrian bridge linking the museum to nearby Northerly Island. 

Lucas’s original bid for the Museum of Narrative Art to be sited in Presidio of San Francisco was defeated.

Has Lucas—long thought of as hopelessly retrograde when it came to buildings—drunk the modern architecture Kool Aid and come to his senses? It gets even more curious. According to the redoubtable Blair Kamin, the short list for architects also included (be still my heart) UN Studio, the runner up, and Zaha Hadid. (I would pay to watch a design briefing between Lucas and Hadid.) This is a 180-degree shift, an aesthetic change of heart.

It seems as if Lucas’s taste in architecture is largely beside the point. He just wants to get the damn thing approved. In architecture-adverse San Francisco—especially in the Presidio—that meant classical architecture. In Chicago, birthplace of the skyscraper, home of Burnham and Sullivan and Mies, it means something else: Architecture with a capital A. Being the shrewd businessman and filmmaker he is, Lusas is employing a kind of strategic flattery here: you deserve this; it’s in keeping with your great history. And of course there’s the attached money. It’s not clear how much Lucas will put up for the museum. He promised $700 million to San Francisco and, remarkably, they turned him down. But for his second-go in Chicago, I’m guessing that number is subject to negotiation and might fluctuate, depending on how much leverage he needs to get the museum built.

Who knew it would be this hard to give away a museum?

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