A tour of the architecture of Bilbao and the celebration of a redevelopment that has made it one of the most important cities for architecture in the world.
There are many reasons for celebration in Bilbao this year. It is now 20 years since the Guggenheim Museum was opened, and the city has also won the award for Best European City 2018 at the Urbanism Awards.
Bilbao launched a huge campaign with the commissioning of the Guggenheim, but to become a city that would come to host buildings from some of the most important architects in the world. Each design fits snugly into the hillsides of Bilbao, and each meets international standards for sustainability.
It’s great to see the city getting the recognition it deserves, the city is an example of how good management and a clear strategy can bring a city to the minds of people worldwide.
“The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao embodies the outward-looking perspective and the intellectual and cultural exchange that distinguish the Guggenheim’s international constellation of museums,”
Richard Armstrong, Director.
The importance of the Guggenheim to Bilbao measures more than the building itself. It personifies the bold decision by the authorities to invest in developing a city that would generate income through tourism.
This led to a raft of changes made for the city and its population, some of the most progressive initiatives in Europe exist in Bilbao:
The citizens of Bilbao have a “guaranteed minimum income”.
50% of new housing, must be affordable social housing.
25% of its €300m gdp is spent on social services.
What better way to celebrate the opening of the Guggenheim than with these additional actions which have led to the latest survey showing an 89% satisfaction from the residents of the city.
What the local council in Bilbao did was heroic; to make a bold and risky, move to pivot the city towards tourism, and make huge increases on investment for the city and its residents.
This award was given to Bilbao in favour of other contenders such as Vienna and Ljubljana for its radical development programmes following the economic downturn in the 90s. Based upon the bravery of the authorities in the sizeable investments they made and the key decisions taken to change the face of Bilbao shed the city of its industrial past and make a European beacon of economic transformation.
The awards take many things into consideration for their European city:
Bilbao was well-known throughout Spain for being an industrial city. Similar to Thatcherism in the UK, the city was hit hard as manufacture moved abroad.
One of the most important decisions that has improved the city over recent years is a dedicated shift to citizen inclusion, engagement and equality.
The Basque country is favourable economically. With access to European funds, that area was able to balance finances, but this isn’t something that happens without prudence from local government and intelligent spending in the right areas.
The management of finances has been exemplary from the Basque local governments and the region has been debt-free since 2010.
Bilbao has invested heavily in green areas around the city leading to greater numbers of people becoming involved in sport, and play areas for children. With a clear focus on creating a city that is both environmentally friendly and pretty, Bilbao is reaping the rewards through a healthier population and increased tourism.
There has been clear leadership in the governance of business and finance since the key decision was taken to pivot towards tourism. The €96m investment in the Guggenheim Museum became a focal point, and many strategies were put in place following this to bolster autonomy and inclusion throughout the population of Bilbao. Locals are involved in participatory budgeting, giving citizens a direct voice in project planning and maintenance.
Bilbao did not stop with the Guggenheim. Many of the biggest names in architecture from Norman Foster to Zada Hadid have designed buildings since the opening of the Guggenheim. Everywhere in Bilbao you will find some of the most advanced architecture in the world.
This urban redevelopment project, designed by the world-famous Zaha Hadid will recuperate the degraded space on the small island in the Nervión, to create a 15,000 new, affordable homes, alongside offices and studios to provide a modern, sustainable area for residence and employment
Designed by Valencia-born Santiago Calatrava (who went on to design part of the new development at Ground-Zero, New York), the Zubizuri footbridge makes a statement of the direction Bilbao would take. With unusual shapes, transparent bricks, supported by cables kept in pristine white.
Endearingly named by the locals for their designer, Norman Foster. The Fosteritos are the entrances to city’s underground network, each taking a snail-shell form of glass and chrome, they are a unique statement in Bilbao and give the underground system a touch of grace.
Designed and named for the Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, these towers provide a hub for international trade, and on the upper floors, sustainable housing. They embody the original idea that Bilbao would become a modern city with state-of-the-art infrastructure to match.
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