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Preserve McCormick Place, Put Lucas Museum On Parking Lot, Helmut Jahn Says

By Ted Cox | April 21, 2016 5:29pm
"It'd be difficult," acrhitect Helmut Jahn said of placing the Lucas Museum in McCormick Place Lakeside Center, but it could be done.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — Architect Helmut Jahn said Thursday that the Lucas Museum could conceivably be placed inside the McCormick Place Lakeside Center — a building he helped design — but said he thought the best place would be on the Soldier Field parking lot just north of the center that had originally been targeted.

Yet Jahn also said he didn't want to take work from architect Ma Yansong, who has designed the proposed Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, and also said "Star Wars" movie mogul George Lucas most likely wants "all or nothing" on the Chicago project.

"I've never met Lucas or Mellody Hobson," Jahn said after his proposed condo tower at 920 S. Michigan Ave. won approval from the Plan Commission. "But when people spend so much money to make themselves a memorial, then they want all or nothing. Right? They don't want to share. They don't want to share this with the past."

Jahn said he had spoken with Ma, the Chinese architect who designed the Lucas Museum, as Ma previously worked for him. Jahn said he told him "I didn't want to take his job away."

Jahn said, in his opinion, the best proposal is "probably leave the museum where it is" — that is, in the Soldier Field parking lot where it won approval from the City Council. But construction has since been blocked by a lawsuit filed by Friends of the Parks.

That prompted Mayor Rahm Emanuel last week to suggest razing the McCormick Place East Building, also known as the Lakeside Center, and placing the museum there along with 12 acres of open green space.

Jahn was skeptical, though, of the $1.2 billion price tag to demolish Lakeside, build the museum and then build a replacement convention hall across King Drive, all "in a time where the city is bankrupt [and] the state is bankrupt." He called it "just too expensive."

Jahn, however, said Lakeside was deserving of preservation, although again he demurred about taking a firm stance on it as an architect who took part in its design.

"I was just helping Gene Summers that time, designing the building," he said, adding, "I think the building has definite architectural value.

"I've always said that the value of a building comes with the distance of time," Jahn said. Comparing it to his own Thompson Center, which he called "a ruin," Jahn said McCormick Place Lakeside "needs repurposing."

Jahn cited the building's presence on a list of "Chicago's 7" buildings worth preserving, including the Thompson Center as well. Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, which complies the list, has previously said the Lucas Museum could be placed inside the McCormick Place building instead of knocking it down.

"It'd be difficult," Jahn said of repurposing the building. Yet he quickly added, "If you really wanted to do it, you could do it. You could actually make something much more interesting to merge something from the past with something in the future."

Jahn emphasized, "I can't and don't want it misunderstood that I'm proposing" to place the museum in McCormick Place. Yet he added that the levels of convention space within it could be reconfigured, and part of the roof could be removed to allow Ma's distinctive tower to jut up out of it.

Jahn also dismissed the idea of adding 12 acres of green space on the McCormick site, calling it "a make-believe that you're gonna have a park with big trees, because you're gonna put it on a parking garage, which is down below."

Although he called the $1.2 billion overall project "maybe overreaching," Jahn seemed matter-of-fact about it all, saying, "The way it looks right now, it's going to take its course."

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