The Guggenheim at night. Photo by Tony Hisgett, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
On October 18, 1997, the at the time controversial and now emblematic Guggenheim Museum Bilbao was inaugurated.
A lot of our regular readers will no doubt be familiar with the so-called Guggenheim effect in Bilbao. After a controversial start, with many critical voices raised questioning the significant Basque public investment in this flagship project, the museum has had a significant impact in putting Bilbao–and the Basque Country more broadly–on the international map. Much of this is down to architect Frank Gehry’s groundbreaking design of the building itself, which, if you catch the airport bus into Bilbao, comes into view in spectacular fashion as you enter the city proper.
Check out our special post here on the twentieth anniversary celebrations for the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.
October 18, 1997 marked the inauguration of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao – today one of the most emblematic sites in the Basque Country.
The Guggenheim by night. Photo by PA. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Hailed as a masterpiece and one of the most important buildings of the 20th century, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, designed by architect Frank Gehry, came to redefine the Basque Country as a whole and the city of Bilbao in particular: it was the “miracle” of Bilbao.
The “miracle” referred of course to Frank Gehry’s Bilbao masterpiece. Hailed as an “instant landmark,” it brought a new sense of relevance to architecture in the transformation of urban landscapes. It was the story of the architect as hero and, as the Greeks believed, of architecture as the first art—arché. Bilbao was doing for the Basques what the Sidney Opera House had done for Australia. Gehry, while complaining of being “geniused to death,” became not only the master architect, but the master artist.
These observations come from the introduction to Learning from the Bilbao Guggenheim, edited by Anna Maria Guasch and Joseba Zulaika. This book is available free to download here.
The Center also publishes other books on the social, cultural, and urban transformation of Bilbao and the Basque Country, for which the Guggenheim served in many respects as a springboard:
That Old Bilbao Moon: The Passion and Resurrection of a City, by Joseba Zulaika.
Transforming Cities: Opportunities and Challenges of Urban Regeneration in the Basque Country, edited by Arantxa Rodríguez and Joseba Juaristi.
Building the Basque City: The Political Economy of Nation-Building, by Nagore Calvo Mendizabal.
Last month the Canadian-born architect who first moved to Los Angeles in 1949 was covered in the news quite extensively. NPR, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post have all featured Gehry and his life’s work in some fashion or another. One of the most mentioned works of architecture is, of course, The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. It was in 1997 that the museum was built in effort to bring an appreciation of culture to the Basque city that had been lying in industrial ruin. This “ship-wreck” was the viewed as a “promise of a new city” as described by Dr. Joseba Zulaika. Gehry’s work and its contribution to Bilbao is a main theme of Prof. Zulaika’s class, “The Bilbao Guggenheim,” in which I’m enrolled this semester. I knew nothing of the back story involved in terms of why and how the building of the Guggenheim came to be, but by reading That Old Bilbao Moon: The Passion and Resurrection of a City, Prof. Zulaika’s book on the transformation of the city and its people, I am finding out about the struggle and importance of building this museum.
Click on the book link provided above for your own copy, or check out the story from NPR’s Susan Stamberg below:
Frank Gehry’s Lifelong Challenge: To Create Buildings that Move
Here are a few of Frank Gehry’s famous works, with the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao at top
The great architect Frank Gehry, whose Guggenheim Bilbao Museum became the landmark building of the turn of the century and turned Bilbao into the worldwide paradigm of a city recreated by architecture, has designed a second work for the city: a bridge connecting Zorrotzaurre with Deusto that will be named after him: “Gehry Zubia” (literally, Gehry Bridge). Gehry has never shied away from expressing his “love” for the city that made him internationally renowned as the master artist and a household name. The bridge was opened to pedestrians at its official inauguration yesterday, September 14 (with traffic access scheduled for next year, upon completion of work on the Deusto Canal). For more information on the inauguration, click here.
Aerial shot of the Deusto Canal (2010), with the future islet of Zorrotzaurre in the center, by Fernandopascullo, via Wikimedia Commons
Recently Joseba Zulaika published his ethnography/memoir about Bilbao entitled That Old Bilbao Moon: The Passion and Resurrection of a City, in which he discusses at length the impact of Gehry’s masterpiece on the city and turns such a glorious “shipwreck” (as Gehry described it) into the emblem of his generation.