Frank Gehry answers critics of the Lucas Art Museum design

Architect Frank Gehry suggests Chicagoans will come to accept his proposed design for the Lucas Art Museum:

Chicago is a great city for architecture and has historically supported innovative, forward-looking work. There is a natural impulse to deride a project in the early stages of design, particularly one that has a new shape or expression.

This is not a new concept.

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and even the Monadnock Building in Chicago had many early critics. In my own experience, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles was called broken crockery when I first went public with it, and that was the nicest thing that got said. In Bilbao, the newspapers had an article asking for the architect of the museum to be killed — that was me! All of these projects have gone on to be great assets to their mutual cities, and I think the same will be true of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art and Chicago.

The work presented for the Lucas Museum has precedent. It’s not just out of the blue; it is something that has been in the air for many years. The use of rooftops as public space has precedent in the Malmo Concert Hall in Sweden by Snohetta. It is one of the first great examples, and I think it has proved very successful. Zaha Hadid has used flowing forms in many of her projects to great effect. If we go even further back, Eric Mendelsohn was using organic forms to create his masterpieces such as the Einstein Tower in Germany…

Please do not dismiss it because it doesn’t look like something you’ve never seen before.

An interesting plea from the starchitect. Chicago is indeed an important city in architecture, particularly with the rise of the International Style in the post-war era. Yet, Chicago doesn’t have too many whimsical or rounded designs as its larger buildings tend to stick with older Green styles (think the Museum Campus), modernism (International Style of glass-walled skyscrapers), and the occasional postmodern touch in a high-rise or tall office building.

If Gehry is right that cities tend to accept his work down the road, does his line of reasoning cut off any potential criticism from the start? Gehry suggests new designs may be unusual but they tend to be liked down the road. But, there are buildings that are constructed and people never quite take a liking to them. As another example, Gehry’s design for the Eisenhower Memorial in Washington D.C. has prompted a lot of debate. How would we know if the Lucas Art Museum is one of those cases that is not popular years later? The location near Lake Michigan and the public interest in such land is not likely to do the building’s design any favors.

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