The Lucas Cultural Arts Museum (LCAM) will be an institution devoted to the art and design of storytelling. LCAM’s program envisions a dynamic mix of three collections—Illustration and Storytelling Art; Digital Art and Art in Motion—complemented by educational and outreach programs. It is a museum that aims to be porous and open.
Spread across the site, the museum’s program would claim a vast swath of land at the waterfront, while simultaneously appearing as a supplicant to the enormity of Soldier field. Tied to the ground, the building in this form is neither iconic nor civic; its generosity is thwarted by its breadth, its grandness swamped by the bombast of its neighbor.
LCAM’s site is historically linked with skyward ambitions. During the 1933 World Exposition it was occupied by Skyride, an aerial tramway supported on two towers, each 628 feet (191 m) tall. The east tower landed on Northerly Island, while the west tower was located on the future site of LCAM.
OMA’s proposal harnesses the ambition of those towers to lift the museum into the clouds. Cables extend from the peak of a new tower to the edges and key points within the gallery plate, lifting and suspending it in mid-air. Rather than creating an obstacle within the site—impeding the activities currently held within it (tailgating), or envisioned for the future (park space)—LCAM becomes dynamic facilitator of life throughout it.
Rotated 45 degrees, the building is offset from the Chicago grid, oriented instead to both key views (the lake and downtown) and creating clear entries directed to the major elements around it. LCAM will be both civic—a monumental and iconic addition to Chicago’s skyline—and populist—an inviting backdrop for the lives of Chicagoans. It is a building that both holds the artwork of storytelling, and creates a place where stories happen. Lifted, the building offers 8 times the public space it occupies.
OMA’s proposal is to create a vertical gallery on the site, an atrium tower that literally elevates the traditional, horizontal galleries that house LCAM’s three collections. The tower suspends the galleries above the city but also connects them to it. Lifting the main galleries preserves the site below as a new urban park, while simultaneously providing for maximum flexibility within the horizontal gallery plate itself.
The horizontal plate and vertical tower are enveloped within a dome-like membrane that expands LCAM’s physical and emotional presence within the city. This membrane—a cloud of ETFE pillows—creates a sheltered, lifted public space for Chicago (Sky Park). Like a park, it is freely accessible. Like an urban plaza, it is a flexible territory that accommodates a range of activities. It is a social space that engages the public to share and create.
The ETFE membrane is fritted to accept projections both from within and from the outside. Within the Sky Park, projections can be used as an integral part of larger displays and presentations. At the ground level, projects can transform the Museum Park into an outdoor or drive in cinema.
The museum’s theater and lecture spaces are located at the base of the tower, allowing for separate ground level entry and expansion to the Museum Park at ground level. A series of escalators lead visitors up to the gallery levels and lifted Sky Park above. From these levels, elevators featuring views of the vertical gallery convey visitors to offices and the Event Space and Observation Deck at the top of the tower.
Lifted, the building offers 8 times the public space it occupies. The park space that surrounds the building—a flexible surface that can accommodate both grasses and parking—extends below the lifted museum. The Museum Park can be used for a range of public events and activities, casting the building as the backdrop for new programs for local residents of both the adjacent neighborhoods and throughout Chicago.