GUGGENHEIM BILBAO, THE BUILDING

When we talk about the Guggenheim Bilbao, the building, we mean a work of art in itself.

It was created by the architect Frank Gehry, holder of the most important international recognition in the world of architecture, the Pritzker Prize.

The Guggenheim Bilbao is much more than a museum

The Guggenheim Bilbao is much more than a museum of contemporary art, it exceeds the limits attributed to a unique building, exceeding any expectation of its promoters.

Its strength comes from having become a symbol for its society

Its strength comes from having become a symbol for an entire society, in need of hope. A community that, at the time of projecting the museum, was plagued by a deep structural crisis of its backbone, the metallurgical industry and shipbuilding. Unemployment increased in eleven years from 2.3% to 26% of the active population.

And at that economic and social situation, with unbearable levels of unemployment, the idea of creating a museum of contemporary art of such a high cost, was seen by many as a difficult to justify expense.

And to think that the Guggenheim would become the symbol of a society in transformation, would have been considered an idea more typical of fantasy than of reality.

The Guggenheim Bilbao integrated into its urban environment
The Guggenheim Bilbao
integrated into its urban environment

But the miracle happened and the Guggenheim was followed by a set of unique buildings, projects from the most prestigious international studios.

In its urban environment, there are buildings of great international architects

Walking around the museum allows us to know the work of great architects:

. Cesar Pelli: Urban project of Abandoibarra and the Iberdrola tower.

. Arata Isozaki: Isozaki Towers.

. Santiago Calatrava: Loiu Airport and the Zubizuri bridge.

. Alvaro Siza: Paraninfo of the University of the Basque Country.

. Zaha Hadid: Zorrozaurre urban project.

. Rafael Moneo: Deusto University Library.

. Federico Soriano: Euskalduna Palace.

. Norman Foster: Bilbao Metro and expansion of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum.

But let’s go back to Guggenheim Bilbao. The construction began in 1993 and lasted four years. It opened on October 19, 1997.

View of Guggenheim Bilbao from the Nervión river
View of Guggenheim Bilbao from the Nervión river

The skin of the building is mainly covered with titanium, limestone and glass.

The museum has two main faces. The face closest to the urban environment, has more square, solid forms, in a brief attempt to connect with the environment. It lasts a little, since its continuity is like a hatching of curved shapes. The other side borders the Nervion estuary, evoking the city’s seafaring vocation, its shipbuilding, navigation, the sea or even fish scales, something that always inspired Frank Ghery.

It is considered the best work of its author and even the best that has been done in the world for decades.

Philip Johnson called Guggenheim Bilbao the most important building of contemporary art

The influential American architect Philip Johnson, the first to be awarded the Pritzker Prize, visited the Guggenheim Bilbao and called it the most important building of contemporary art.

Its almost impossible forms were created from a computer system developed for the aeronautical industry called CATIA, modified for the occasion in order to be adapted to the demands of the architecture.

3D design of the Guggenheim Bilbao Photo: Peggy Marco
3D design of the Guggenheim Bilbao
Photo: Peggy Marco

The construction covers an area of 28,000 square meters of which more than ten thousand are dedicated to exhibition space.

The shapes of its interior spaces surprise as much or more than the exterior.

Its great atrium, is the central nucleus of the interior of the museum, rising towards the sky through complex and harmonic forms. The exhibition halls are connected to each other by a complex set of walkways.

Interior view from the atrium
 Photo: Naotake Murayama  https://www.flickr.com/people/12832970@N00
Interior view from the atrium
Photo: Naotake Murayama https://www.flickr.com/people/12832970@N00

To conclude this article, I recommend deepening the subject with a master class, a video about a conference of the Guggemheim Bilbao given by Luis Fernandez-Galiano Professor of the School of Architecture of the Polytechnic University of Madrid for the March Foundation.

It allows contextualizing Frank Gehry’s work in contemporary architectural trends, a highly recommended exercise when it comes to understanding the building.

You can find the conference of Luis Fernandez-Galiano about Guggenheim Bilbao, the Building:

Guggenheim Bilbao
Architecture and Show Business

From this link you can access the museum’s website.

You can buy tickets online at this link.

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