A federal court judge has suspended work on the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art after a local parks protection group launched proceedings against the city of Chicago, claiming that it cannot give the lakeside site to a private organisation.
Unveiled by MAD earlier this month, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art will house film director George Lucas' own art collection as well as other works inside a curving white stone building, which extends into the landscape at its base. Shaped like an upended cone with its point cut off, the building will be covered by a "floating" disc, creating a sheltered viewing area.
The design has attracted criticism from locals. Chicago alderman Bob Fioretti told the Chicago Sun-Times the building looked like "a palace for Jabba the Hut."
Canadian architect Frank Gehry – who hit headlines last month by swearing at journalists in response to questions about criticism of his own work – has now waded in to defend the designs.
"The recent outpouring of negative sentiment in Chicago against MAD Architects' proposal for George Lucas' lakefront museum is troubling to read," says Gehry in a letter published by the Chicago Tribune newspaper yesterday.
"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," adds Gehry.
The architect said that his own Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao also had early critics, despite now being held up as an example of the regenerative power of architecture.
"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," he continued.
"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."
Gehry said that MAD's design had architectural precedent and did not just come "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," he said.
He also compared the "flowing forms" of the Lucas Museum to work by British architect Zaha Hadid and 1920s expressionist German architect Erich Mendelsohn.
"I would hope that the people of Chicago take the proper time to review the Lucas Museum," added Gehry. "Please do not dismiss it because it doesn't look like something you've never seen before."
Last week, local group The Friends of the Parks filed a lawsuit claiming that the site is still a protected waterway as it was once part of Lake Michigan before being infilled in the 1920s, and cannot be developed without approval from the State government.
Judge John Darrah declared yesterday that no changes can be made to the land until a further order is made by the court.
The city is now planning to file for dismissal of the case next month, according to another report in the Chicago Tribune. The Friends of the Park will then have 30 days to respond, meaning no progress is likely to be made on the case until February 2015.
Local firm Studio Gang has yet to unveil its landscape design for the museum project, which will include a new bridge to connect the museum to the nearby Northerly Island peninsula.