The design for Chicago's Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts has been revealed, with MAD Architects unveiling their plans for a sculptural white "mountain," rising from the site to be topped by a metallic crown. Designed as a landscape that can be approached from all sides, with the main entrance located on a 'floating' public plaza accessed via a network of ramps and steps, the building is organized around a central domed lobby and events space, with four stories of gallery spaces, a set of four theaters, and at the top of the building an observation deck and glass-encased restaurant. In a connected, smaller "mountain" are the building's educational functions, with classrooms, lecture theaters and a library.
Speaking to ArchDaily from Chicago, director of MAD Architects Ma Yansong explained how he wanted the design "to be futuristic but at the same time to be natural," connecting with the landscape of the waterfront site.
More about the design from Ma Yansong after the break
"When people enter the building they will arrive on the dome level, and they will see this huge space with natural light coming down from the top," says Ma Yansong, describing the experience of the building. "This space is a lobby for the museum, but also it's a space for temporary exhibitions and events, it's a multi-function space," he adds, describing the domed central space as a "living room" within the city for citizens to enjoy.
Yansong describes the external experience of the building as "seamless," as the opaque walls of the building - designed to protect the exhibits from external light - merge with the surrounding green spaces and amphitheaters. This landscape will also feature contributions from Studio Gang, who were selected by the Lucas Museum to design a bridge connecting the museum site with the nearby Notherly Island, an area which they have spent years turning into an ecological urban park.
MAD Architects were selected to design the Lucas Museum in July, after the museum's doomed plan for a site on the Presidio in San Francisco, a much more conservative design. Asked what influenced the Lucas Museum's change of design tactic to go with the change of city, president of Skywalker Properties Angelo Garcia, told ArchDaily: "George [Lucas] and I approached the Presidio Trust board with the idea of doing a competition, exactly like we did here, and have a modern iconic building. The problem was that San Francisco was just coming out of a not very positive experience with the Fisher museum, so they told us if we were going to move forward that we should go more towards an architecture that would fit within the Presidio, or that has been used within the area around the Presidio.
"We always hoped and we always had in mind the idea of having a competition like this, so we could get some of the younger, more futuristic architects going and giving us a building of the 21st century."
Back in July, MAD Architects was selected "because of its innovative approach to design and the firm's philosophy of connecting urban spaces to natural landscapes," and they have certainly delivered on that promise. The design concept of 'building-as-landscape' (with Ma Yansong consistently referring to the structure as a mountain) contains hints of the Shanshui City concept presented at the Venice Biennale, a design where the shape of the buildings references the landscapes of traditional Chinese Paintings.
"I think the idea of nature is a universal challenge for today's architecture," says Yansong. "Especially for Chicago, the city has a rich architectural history, so you see a lot of great architecture from the modern time, and now I think we ant to continue this legacy. This new architecture has to announce the future, for architecture culture to become more futuristic."
At the Lucas Museum, MAD Architects certainly had the right client to develop this new architecture. "I think he [George Lucas] is a very futuristic person," says Yansong. "I think futuristic is not only about the look, it's also about how you can attract young people and make people curious so they want to discover not only the space but also the content they are showing in the museum."
"Chicago has always had a strong legacy for architecture," adds Mike Toolis, the Chairman and CEO of the project's architect of record, VOA. "We think here in our city that we glorify architecture and recognize it probably as well as any city in the world, and we like to think that design matters. So from that perspective, our aspiration for the building is that it will represent a new look and the next wave of what the future might be, and I think Ma's done a great job of finding an architecture that is representative of what the future might bring."