Cloud-shape design floated for Lucas museum
Forget the mock-classical temple that George Lucas sought to build at Crissy Field a couple years ago. His newly unveiled vision for Treasure Island is utterly different — a cross between a silvery cloud and a souped-up sports car.
Streamlined and metallic, the proposed Lucas Museum of Narrative Art conjures up the futuristic realm of “Star Wars” rather than the romantic yesterdays of the Palace of Fine Arts, the filmmaker’s inspiration for the proposal rejected by the Presidio Trust in 2014.
The unanswered question is whether Lucas will try again to place his eclectic collection of illustrative and cinematic art in San Francisco, or instead take a site offered to him in Los Angeles.
A decision by Lucas is expected early in 2017. If he and his team choose Treasure Island, the museum would be built on a 4-acre site at the south end of the island, next to a planned ferry terminal and the historic Building One from the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition.
Local officials say they’re optimistic that any potential issues with the unusual setting can be resolved in the next few months.
“We’d like to think their heart is here,” said Adam Van de Water of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development. “He lives and works here, it’s a spectacular site, and we think it’s a natural fit.”
The conceptual design shown to The Chronicle would be roughly 270,000 square feet. That’s larger than the recent addition to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and three times the size of what Lucas sought to build in the Presidio.
However, it fits within the height limits on the site that Lucas and his staff have been looking at since the Marin resident abandoned plans in June for a museum in Chicago because of legal opposition.
The size is about the same as the structure envisioned for Chicago. Another thing that hasn’t changed is Lucas’ choice of architects. Both the Treasure Island museum and a proposal for Exposition Park in Los Angeles are being designed by Ma Yansong, 41, a Chinese architect known for free-flowing sculptural drama.
On a recent visit to San Francisco, Ma described Treasure Island and the museum’s waterside location as “a little bit surreal — there’s a disconnection with the urban setting, but it’s the perfect place to view the urban setting.”
That setting drove aspects of the design, such as several large slit windows that would face the city’s hills and downtown skyline. The public levels of the museum would be lifted up in a way that anticipates sea-level rise, but also to make room for a level of parking that would be cloaked in landscaping. Those spaces would flow into the park already planned along the island’s western edge.
“People would be able to sit on the slope and look toward the bay,” Ma said. “People have a city on one side. They want something different on the other.”
In this case, the “something different” would be a smoothly angled flourish that from above could be a sleek stingray. The southern half — the fins, so to speak, or the front of the sports car — would be 60 feet tall and hold educational space and cinemas above a glassy lobby. The exhibition galleries would be on the north side, where the height steps up to 125 feet.
“We want to present the museum as if it is a natural feature,” Ma said, suggesting that the overall impression to visitors approaching by ferry should be “Like a cloud moving toward the island and landing.”
If the details are distinct to San Francisco, Ma’s design approach isn’t.
Before starting MAD Architects in 2004, Ma worked for Zaha Hadid, the late Pritzker Prize-winning architect known for energetic pyrotechnics that rely on computer-aided design. One of Ma’s most acclaimed buildings, the Harbin Opera House in China, is meant to evoke the dunes of that city’s original topography.
As for his work with Lucas, in 2014 Ma described his Lucas museum concept for Lake Michigan to Blair Kamin of the Chicago Tribune as “part of nature, part of (the) landscape” — soft words for a stone-clad mountainous form that Kamin and others quickly likened to Jabba the Hutt, the sinister blob from Lucas’ “Star Wars” series.
The Los Angeles version of Lucas’ museum is more conventional but still has a turbo-charged air — it’s an elongated spaceship that would touch down on either side of a major road leading into Exposition Park. There, it would join such crowd-pleasers as the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Not so with Treasure Island, where the barracks of the former Navy base are being dismantled in the first visible steps toward a transformation of the artificial island. The city has approved plans for a neighborhood of as many as 8,000 housing units, most of them clustered near the planned ferry terminal.
The Lucas team already has had extensive meetings with city staff as well as elected officials. The largest local stumbling block apparently involves a determination of whether or not the museum’s traffic and environmental impacts are allowable within the island’s approved studies, or if a supplemental (and time-consuming) environmental impact report will need to be done.
One issue at play: The island’s chapel is on the would-be museum site. Planners are likely to offer several sites where it might be moved, either into the new shoreline park or to public spaces planned within the island.
Overall, city officials say they’re intrigued by the idea of adding a major pop-culture attraction to a plan that has been on the drawing boards for more than a decade.
The Lucas Museum “fits well with the plans for the island, and the overall programs we’re trying to have here,” said Bob Beck, director of the Treasure Island Development Authority. The museum also might speed up the arrival of ferry service, he suggested.
According to Don Bacigalupi, the museum’s president, the design work and search for approvals are being done simultaneously in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Within the next two to four months, Lucas and his team will decide which location offers the clearest path to starting construction in a year or so, with opening day three years later.
“It may be unprecedented that one commission has resulted in three designs in three cities,” Bacigalupi said. “The good news is, we’ve worked together long enough that the program and the design have really come together.”