The Guggenheim Museum completed 1997 and the Abandoibarra master plan Bilbao Spain a building as a catalyst for development in progress

During the 1990s, the city of Bilbao turned a corner. It was a declining port city in the Basque region of northern Spain largely unknown to the world. Today it is very different. A number of major projects developed by the Basque government have regenerated and modernized the city: the Metro, the Euskalduna Congress Hall, the Tramway, the Port of Abra, the Airport and the most important of all in bringing Bilbao to the eyes of the world, the Guggenheim Museum (see Figure 6.4). These projects have, according to the city's mayor, Inaki Azkuna, elevated the self-esteem of the city and given it confidence to participate in the globalizing world.

The spur for the planning effort that has led to the revival of Bilbao was the flood

Figure 6.4 The Guggenheim Museum in 2004.

of August 1983 that wrought physical and economic havoc. The subsequent 1987 metropolitan plan developed policies for enhancing Bilbao's connections to the external world, increasing mobility within the city, improving environmental and urban quality, investing in human resources and technology and for building a range of cultural facilities. Part of the cultural effort was to create an internationally prestigious museum of modern art. Contemporaneously, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation was looking for a second European site (after the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice) where it could display parts of its collection.

An agreement was reached whereby the Basque administration would pay for the building and the foundation would manage the museum and provide the collection and temporary exhibits. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue, New York designed by Frank Lloyd Wright had set a precedent for having an internationally renowned architect design a building for the foundation. After some debate over whether a refurbished Alhondiga building in the city could suitably house the collection, a decision was made to have a limited competition for the design of a museum to be located on the banks of the Nervion River. The site was in the centre of a triangle whose vertices were the Arriago Theatre, the University of Deusto and the Fine Arts Museum.

A precedent had been set for the use of limited competitions in Bilbao. The Bilbao Metro (known affectionately as Fosteritos) design competition was won by Norman Foster (the other entrants were Santiago Calatrava, Architektengruppe U-bahn and Gregotti Associates). The metro opened in 1995 and is now being extended. The architects involved in the competition for the design of the museum were Arata Isozaki (representing Asia), Coop Himmelblau

(Europe) and Frank Gehry (America). Gehry's design was chosen because it featured an iconic building that might help the Basque people 'communicate an independent identity to the world'. It is a much-admired sculpture of curved volumes made of stone and glass and covered in titanium. On one side is the river and on the other side a large forecourt that sets the building as a sculpture in space.

What impact has the development had? It has surpassed all expectations not only as a work of Art but also as a catalyst for development. The museum drew 4.5 million visitors between 1997 and 2001. They have spent money on accommodation and restaurants that, in turn, has had an impact on the commercial sector of the economy. It is estimated that the museum has added an additional 660 million Euros to the Gross Domestic Product and 117 million to the annual tax base of the city. Over 4000 new jobs have been directly attributed to the development of the museum (Vidarte, 2002). It has spawned new centres of contemporary art in the city - Artium and BilbaoArte (which provides work space for young artists) - and other galleries exhibiting current art. More than anything it has changed the image of the city in the world's eyes. Although it is the jewel in the crown, it is not only the Guggenheim Museum that has resulted in this change. The 'Euskalduna' Conference and Music Centre, the two bridges across the Nervion (the Zubizuri footbridge designed by Santiago Calatrava and the Euskalduna Bridge by Javier Manterola), the new airport terminal designed by Calatrava and the ongoing construction of the Abandoibarra precinct have all had a positive impact on the city's image.

The Abandoibarra plan designed by César Pelli links the Guggenheim Museum, the Fine Arts Museum and 'Euskalduna'. The scheme acts as an extension of the nineteenth century Ensanche, and the public park located on the river. Pelli was elected to do the master plan because of his experience at Battery Park City (see Chapter 8) although he was not the master planner for that scheme and his Aban-doibarra master plan depicts a more fragmented Modernist design in which streets are dividers rather than seams of life (see Figure 6.5). The exception is in Pelli's design for the Plaza Euskadi in which the proposed buildings frame the plaza. At the head of the plaza on the axis of Elcano Street to San José Square in the existing central business district will be a 33-storey, 150-metre tower for the provincial Government of Vizcaya designed by Pelli himself. The plaza is to be designed by Diana Belmori.

The Abandoibarra area also contains a Sheraton Hotel (completed in 2004) designed by Ricardo Legorreta, and buildings that will 'emerge like giant doorjambs without a threshold' designed by Arata Isozaki. In addition, Bilbao Ría 2000 (an institution created in 1992 for managing the land of Metropolitan Bilbao) has a public art program to create sculptures in the zone by artists such as Eduardo Chillida and Ulrich Rücheim.

The investment by the Basque government has reversed the economic decline of Bilbao. The city has been transformed from a decaying industrial and port city into a prestigious centre for the arts. It has, however, focused on buildings and not on the quality of the public spaces amongst them despite the new buildings, including the

Figure 6.5 The Guggenheim Museum as a catalyst. (a) The Abandoibarra master plan, 2000 and (b) the proposed Plaza Euskadi featuring the government of Viscaya building, 2004; the Guggenheim Museum is on the left.

Figure 6.5 The Guggenheim Museum as a catalyst. (a) The Abandoibarra master plan, 2000 and (b) the proposed Plaza Euskadi featuring the government of Viscaya building, 2004; the Guggenheim Museum is on the left.

Guggenheim, being designed to integrate 'into the city's urban structure'. The spaces lack any human-scale detail and contain no activities that attract people to them. The blank walls of the Guggenheim, for instance, result in no eyes on the open space fronting it. This and such spaces have become havens for negative behaviour. An opportunity for good detailed urban design that enhances the life of the city has been lost. The space in front of the Guggenheim now houses Jeff Koon's mammoth 'Puppy' that helps reduce its visual size. What we do have is a 'cutting-edge' building that many critics see as being a precedent for signature buildings of the twenty-first century.

Major references

Bilbao Ría 2000 (2003), whole issues (December). Mas, Elías (2002). The Ensanche of Bilbao. In Euskal Hiria. Victoria-Gasteiz: Central Publishing Services of the Basque Government, 134-41. Segal, Arlene (1999). Turning the tide: Guggenheim, Bilbao. Planning: Architecture and Planning Review for Southern Africa 163 (May-June): 4-9. Vidarte, Juan Ignacio (2002). The Bilbao Guggenheim Museum. In Euskal Hiria. Victoria-Gasteiz: Central Publishing Services of the Basque Government, 153-8.

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