Site Shuffle

Michael Sorkin urges Lucas Museum to stay in Chicago and revitalize the city’s South Side

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(Courtesy Terreform)
(Courtesy Terreform)

On June 24, George Lucas decided to move his proposed Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts from Chicago. (You can read our full coverage of the Museum’s saga, which began in San Francisco, here.) New York-based architect Michael Sorkin has penned a letter to George Lucas and his wife Mellody Hobson urging the museum to stay in Chicago but in inhabit a site south of the city and formerly used by U.S. Steel.

A full copy of that letter, and its accompanying images, appears below:

Dear George Lucas and Mellody Hobson,

Come back to Chicago! In no other city will your museum provide remotely comparable stimulus and balm. While I was a supporter of your original site and an enthusiast for the design, I’m writing urgently with a suggestion for another location that could solve many problems for both you and for the City of Chicago, yielding a far superior result. It’s the 600 acres formerly occupied by U.S. Steel, jutting magnificently into the lake, engaging panoramic views to the Loop, bounded by Lake Shore Drive, and served by METRA. More, it is completely clear and ready to build. No need to tear down a huge building, no need to back away from the lake, no need to take park land, no need to cram into an over-
crowded architectural zoo!

As you surely know, a highly ambitious—and highly expensive—plan to build an enormous residential and commercial project (which briefly offered a site for the Obama Library) was, after years of effort, abandoned in March and the site is again orphaned: we see this as divine serendipity! Following this failed effort to develop the site in collaboration with McCaffery Interests, U.S. Steel (their stock is tanking and they have no interest in acting directly as developers) is doubtless eager to be rid of the place and some quick and creative collaboration could yield remarkable results—results that can be realized far faster than starting out afresh on the west coast, risking further delays.

(Courtesy Terreform)

(Courtesy Terreform)

Here are some reasons a return to Chicago makes such compelling sense:

1. Your museum can inspire a new institutional and public cluster on the far south side of Chicago to rival the crowded complex in which you’d hoped to build and add a gleaming new pearl in the city’s civic necklace.

2. Your museum can be the fulcrum for a dramatic increase in the space of the city’s parks, leveraging as many as 300 additional acres of waterfront green space.

3. Your museum could go miles in addressing the abiding north-south split that so diminishes Chicago’s aspirations to equity and social justice and in affirming your well-known commitment to bettering the lives of the city’s poor and people of color.

4. Your museum could catalyze an enormous transformation in the quality of life for nearby neighborhoods starved for educational, cultural, environmental, and economic development.

5. Your museum could be a beacon and a symbol, a phoenix rising above a wasteland. Indeed, this would be far better than trying to squeeze in among an already dense and disparate group of buildings that will only compromise the power of its vision and originality.



(Courtesy Terreform)

(Courtesy Terreform)

Here’s a scenario:

1. The City of Chicago acquires the northern portion of the site from U.S. Steel. This might happen through purchase, condemnation, or—best of all—through donation by a corporation for which the land now represents more of a burden than an asset.

2. The City of Chicago commits to the development of an extensive enlargement of its park system with a design that combines local needs with a great South Side Chicago Community Art Park.

3. The City of Chicago—or you yourself—facilitates the operation of a new transit system: a fantastic fleet of Millennium Ferries linking Navy Pier, Millennium Park, the Museum Campus, the South Shore Cultural Center, and the great new South Side Chicago Community Art Park. What an attraction! What a unifier!

4. A task force comprised of municipal, institutional, civic, and community organizations plans for and array of synergistic institutions to cluster with the Lucas Museum, including (for starters) a South Chicago Community Center of Narrative Arts, an amazing lakeside amphitheater (Yo Kanye!), an enlarged South Shore Cultural Center, a Railway Museum, The Mellody Hobson Institute of Environmental Research and Technology as part of a reinvigorated Chicago State University, an all-weather amusement park, and a renewable energy complex drawn from the valuable work done as part of the McCaffrey proposal.

5. You build your project according to its original design. It will look so much better here, offer excellent access to an enlarged constituency of visitors—coming from north, south, and west—and do so much more good.

6. With this recreational, athletic, educational, environmental, and cultural complex assured, the attractiveness of the southern portion of the larger site for development will surely re-emerge, providing further resources for the community and an enlarged tax base for the city to support its parks, schools, and infrastructure.

(Courtesy Terreform)

(Courtesy Terreform)

I’m writing you because of my deep admiration for the desire you both have expressed to make your museum extremely accessible, especially to those communities who have been so ignored by traditional cultural institutions. By building your project on this waiting site in South Chicago you will dramatically assert this principle of inclusion in the strongest terms and offer this neglected part of the city tremendous dignity and the opportunity to create its own narratives. And, such a move can catalyze a true people’s campus and park, a complex of sympathetic and galvanizing landscapes and institutions that will create authentic pride of place for so many who feel they’ve simply been left out.

We are more than ready to help make such a plan. In fact, we’ve taken the liberty of sketching something of what this might look like. Please be generous and bold! Take this opportunity to return to Chicago with a determination both to build a superb museum and to make a transformative contribution to a city I know you both deeply love.

We stand ready to offer any further assistance—and encouragement—you may require!

Yours Sincerely,

Michael Sorkin President, Terreform (501(c)3)


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