It appears as though Chicago will lose the Lucas Museum after a protracted and unnecessary legal battle with Friends of the Parks. While this particular author understands their position and the exalted place Burnham’s legacy holds in Chicago planning, there is surely a better solution than forgoing the cultural, economic and aesthetic benefits the museum would bring to Chicago. It is not often that architecture can provide solutions to what are fundamentally political and social problems, however this may be an exception.
The simple reconfiguration of the museum to incorporate a habitable green roof (see illustration above) would provide continuous parkland across the site—a sure improvement over the current condition. With an uninterrupted ground plane, the welcome addition of some topography, and the stitching together of previously disconnected sections of the lakefront green space, this approach could save the museum while drastically improving the lakefront for public use.
There is precedent for a green roof of this scale at Millennium Park and in proposed developments for adjacent and riverfront land in the next decade, not to mention recent projects around the world which have used similar concepts on equally tenuous sites. Surely Lucas Museum architect Ma Yansong’s significant design talents could provide attractive expression to such a concept. Yansong should suggest, and his client must demand, this type of architectural solution to the protracted legal debacle Lucas has found himself in. The rather large budget discussed for the current proposal could likely cover such a scheme and the unique constraints would surely beget an interesting and engaging building.
In the rare instance that architects can provide solutions to seemingly intractable problems, we should do so. This is one of those opportunities. The citizens of Chicago must demand that our politicians, planners and neighbors (read: Friends of the Parks) signal a willingness to compromise and that Lucas demands that his architect reconfigure the scheme to address political pushback. Ma Yansong can obviously craft the types of lyrical and dynamic spaces that would make his mentor, Zaha Hadid, proud. However, the question here is not just one of pure design talent, but having the vision and fortitude to address complicated and fractious political and development processes through architectural design. (Nick Cecchi)
Nicholas Cecchi is an architectural designer born in Denver, educated in New Orleans and currently practicing in Chicago. He led the design department of a Denver-based boutique architectural and sculptural fabrication studio for three years after graduating from Tulane University with a Master of Architecture. Following this experience in design-build and digital fabrication he decamped for Chicago to finish the process of architectural licensure while working on various projects in commercial, multi-family residential, educational and civic architecture.
He is a published architecture writer, contributing pieces to leading publications as well as a regular column of architecture criticism to Newcity. Nicholas lives in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago where he can be found experimenting with new fabrication and design techniques, writing about architecture and urbanism, and watching the endless interplay of urban life from the stoop of his studio.
Contact: email@example.com | Website: nicholascecchi.com