As architect and writer Koldo Lus Arana argues in an excellent special issue of the journal MAS Context marking the museum’s anniversary, Gehry’s Guggenheim, which opened on Oct. 19, 1997, was an overnight success several decades in the making. Properly measuring the museum’s impact requires — in a way that’s much different from typical architectural anniversaries — telling the story of what came before as much as what came after.
And the truth is that even all these years later, most stories don’t do this. Instead, they tend to trumpet the “Bilbao Effect” — the way the success of Gehry’s museum convinced other cities they needed a similarly spectacular cultural landmark to drive publicity and tourism — as if it were an exclusively architectural phenomenon. The staggeringly photogenic quality of Gehry’s design — particularly as seen looking down Bilbao’s Iparraguirre Street, tightly grouped and once-sooty 19th century buildings giving way to the shimmering profile of the new museum — has made this line of thinking only more tempting.
Thanks to Christopher Hawthorne for mentioning of our issue in his column. You can find the complete text on the Los Angeles Times’s website.