Exploring the City You Grew Up In

March 27, 2017

Issue statement by Iker Gil, editor in chief of MAS Context.


Mas issue bilbao exploring the city you grew up in 01

Bilbao, 2014. © Iker Gil.

This is an issue that I have had in mind since we founded MAS Context in 2009. After publishing the book Shanghai Transforming in 2008, a natural continuation would have been to explore the transformation of Bilbao, the city I grew up in and a metropolis that has gone through one of the most remarkable undertakings in the past few decades. Probably because of the overexposure of the city in the media over the previous decade, it didn’t feel that it was the right moment to publish the issue. However, in many instances, I thought the essays published outside the city had been misconstrued or oversimplified, most focusing exclusively on the Guggenheim Museum, and that there were many other aspects that needed to be discussed to understand the scope, needs, and goals of the transformation. Having these “extra” years to publish the issue has provided the opportunity to clearly observe the evolution of Bilbao and enjoy long conversations with residents about the impact of the changes. Time has helped to identify agents directly involved or affected by the transformation, learn from the different projects, and understand nuanced aspects often overlooked yet inform the work done, sometimes decades later.

So why publish the issue now? Three specific circumstances make it an appropriate moment to focus on Bilbao, to understand its transformation, and look forward to its future. First, in 2017 the Guggenheim Museum will celebrate two decades since opening its doors, and much has happened since October 19, 1997. The city has continued to change since that day, completing many urban, infrastructural, and architectural interventions. Second, the global economic crisis had a local effect on Bilbao, challenging its economic model and the structure used to fund the ambitious projects. No longer a viable structure for the future, the city needs to explore new models to continue its evolution. And finally, the transformation of the Zorrotzaurre peninsula, an area of 70 hectares with a master plan by Zaha Hadid Architects, has kicked off. The first two tangible steps have been the start of the work to open the Deusto Canal, that will turn the peninsula into an island, and the construction of the first bridge, the Frank Gehry Bridge, that connects it to the Deusto neighborhood.

To provide a comprehensive look at the history and transformation of the city, this issue features contributions by those who have had a direct involvement with it, whether leading the process or closely witnessing it. Most of them local residents, the list includes public officials, urban designers, architects, landscape architects, photographers, historians, and a filmmaker, among others. They provide an invaluable perspective, from the city’s past as an industrial power followed by its steep decline, to the transformation during the last three decades into a service city. It is an ongoing, ambitious, and complex effort to position the city regionally and internationally. Ultimately, we want this issue to provide a relevant tool to better understand the past and present of the city as well as to think about its future and build upon its strengths without losing its identity.

Finally, I want to thank the many people involved in the issue, from those who have contributed their work to those who have scoured the city archives and gone above and beyond to find the information featured in the issue. It was a daunting effort and we are very thankful for their commitment and generosity.

As an issue conceived and completed from a profound love for the city that I grew up in and has shaped my way of looking at the built environment, I hope it helps others learn about, understand, and appreciate the city.


Our Bilbao issue has had invaluable help from Andoni Aldekoa, Eduardo J. Alonso, Ibon Areso, William Baker, Diana Balmori, Michelle Benoit, Michael Bierut, Cini Boeri, Gracia Cid, Andrew Clark, Edoardo Colombo, Carlos Copertone, André Corrêa, Javier del Vigo, Luis Diaz-Mauriño, Patxi Eguiluz, Tania Diez, Antonio Escribano, Bernardo García de la Torre, Patxi García de la Torre, Beatriz García Posadas, Carlos Garmendia, Iker Gil, Borja González Riera, Pia B. Gransaeter, David Herranz, Elizabeth Howard, Josemi Iriondo, Carly Liebman, Koldo Lus Arana, Txema Luzuriaga, Eline Maager, Ander Marquet Ryan, Mauricio Martín, Elena Martínez-Litago, Ruth Mayoral López, Julie Michiels, Paul Mougey, María Mur Dean, Dominic Norman-Taylor, Aitor Ortiz, Lucía C. Pérez-Moreno, Javier Perez Uribarri, Fidel Raso, Michael Renaud, Ana Román Escobar, Tomás Ruiz, Juan Sádaba, Diego Sanz, Patricia Sanz Lacarra, Megan Sclater, Koldo Serra, John Silz, Guillermo Ulacia, Alfonso Vegara, Karen Widi, and Yosigo.

We would like to extend our gratitude to the institutions that have provided photographs and drawings for this issue: the municipal archive at the Bilbao City Council, El Correo newspaper, Consonni, Foster and Partners, Gehry Partners LLP, and the University of Valladolid Library. We would like to specially thank Jose Manuel Argote Garavilla, Itziar Goikolea Ugarte, and Iciar Insunza Gaminde at the municipal archive for their outstanding work responding to our relentless requests.

Special thanks to Rafa Gil for all the help coordinating information in Bilbao, going through archives, selecting photographs, and calling people to secure the files we needed.

Thanks to Eider Corral, Hopper Ink, La Machine Gráfica, Meneo, and Vudumedia for the posters they design to accompany the issue.

We are very grateful to Miguel Terán and Oskar Hernández from Meneo for their fantastic work, dedication, and patience to design this extended issue. It was a pleasure to work with you, and we love the T-shirt you designed!

We’d like to dedicate this issue to those who work everyday to make Bilbao a better city, whether leading the efforts or participating in everyday activities.