The building has to have an iconic presence. It has to be important, like the library, like the courthouse, a place that has importance that makes the artist and the community understand the relationship of art to the world.
—Frank Gehry, Architect
The Bilbao Guggenheim is an object, of course, however skillfully Gehry has intertwined the museum with the city around it. Still, inside and out, it’s a spectacular embodiment of the tension between objects and the world beyond them. Within these far-from-neutral galleries, artworks will inevitably be drawn into complex relationships with the architecture and with one another. Outside, the design overflows any ordinary conception of what a museum, or any building, should resemble. Like the Basque region, this building is a place of contested borders.
—Herbert Muschamp, Architecture Critic
Everything about the building denies custom and tradition. Its concept and forms are as radical as the contemporary works of art they accommodate… The container and the contained, the art and the architecture, are one thing, made for each other; nowhere else do all of the arts support and play off one another in a unified aesthetic that so fully expresses the 20th century. The setting is as significant as the art; the whole is the superb sum of its parts.
—Ada Louise Huxtable, Architecture Critic
The Guggenheim Bilbao was a rare occurrence. There was an incredible confluence of amazing, talented people. You had a museum that was hungry to expand, available land for cheap, a government with money, an architect itching to make a statement, and a city that desperately needed a new reason to exist. You can’t just buy that.
—Maria Fernandez Sabau, Museum Consultant
The opening of the Guggenheim Museum in 1997 symbolized the new Bilbao propelling it to the international stage. The image of a single building, considered the most important structure of the end of the twentieth-century, captured all the effort and projects of the previous two decades. Spurred by a success of unprecedented scale, the city undertook key infrastructural, urban, and architectural projects. Bilbao’s transformation would be a reference for other cities trying to overcome their own decline. In many cases misunderstood and oversimplified, its success would prove to be hard to replicate. A period defined by a strong economy, the global crisis would challenge its model moving forward.
In November of 2012, the Bilbao City Council approved the Special Plan for Zorrotzaurre. With a master plan designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, the approval kicked off the start of a new urban transformation of more than 200 acres that would turn the mostly industrial peninsula into a mixed-use island. A second strategic plan for the city is in place to guide this new phase of the city, where Bilbao aspires to play a role in the competitive world of cities and regions. It is a plan that aims to involve public and private entities, create new synergies with neighboring cities, and establish a knowledge economy that will define a bright future.