Jan 8, 2018

Bilbao – 8 architectural reasons to visit the European city of the year 2018

It´s 20 years ago since I first came to the Basque Country and I fell in love in an instant!  Its people, culture and love for good food, as well as its coast line and mountains captured my heart!

It is also 20 years ago, when in Bilbao the Guggenheim Museum was completed. The opening of this emblematic Museum was back then heavily criticized, however looking back now, it definitely marked the change in focus, from an industrial city into a space of urbanist example, with a cultural and artistic playground that has continued growing ever since!

This year Bilbao has been named European city of the year by the Academy of Urbanism and Forbes writes about it in big letters,…

Here my personal short list of the 8 contemporary architectural reasons for why you should visit Bilbao this year! 

Of course, the Guggenheim Museum might sound obvious and standard, however Frank Gehrys master piece is truly magnificent, both from the outside, as well as from its inside! 

Recently for it´s 20s anniversary a spectacular 30 min light and sound show allowed us to see Bilbaos recent history projected all around the building.

Norman Foster´s Metro, which started operating in 1995 has brought a fundamental change to the city. In 1998, the Metro was awarded the Brunel Prize, the most prestigious international award for railway architecture for Sarriko station and has also been awarded the Prize for the cleanest Metro service in Europe. All over the city its whale like shaped glass and stainless steel entrances arise from the ground and invite you underground.

Santiago Calatrava’s Sondica airport, or as its nick name “ La Paloma” (the dove), due to its bird like shape and its white color is a truly welcoming building, full of light and rounded shapes – a wonderfully inspiring design piece, which opened in 2000 and handles nowadays over 5 Mio passengers annually. The elegant four-story parking structure was designed to limit the impact of auxiliary buildings on the vista of the main building, is tucked into a grassy embankment. I love flighing off and coming back home from here!

An other great architectural piece by Calatrava marks Bilbao: Zubizuri (Basque for ‘white bridge’), a stunning suspension cable footbridge completed in 1997. At night, when the bridge lights up from underneath, it looks especially beautiful and inspiring!

The Torre Iberdrola (completed in 2011) by Cesar Pelli counts supposedly to the architectural gems that have contributed to the city’s metamorphosis, personally I find it a rather plain glass building, which stands out mainly because of its hight (165m) ! 

In comparison to the last mentioned, I find the building of Basque Health Department by Coll-Barreu Arquitects (2008) much more inspiring. As it reflects the sky in hundreds of pieces, it changes its aspect depending of the weather conditions – I never get bored having an other look at it, when passing by!

Adding to this list of architectural stand out pieces of course you should not miss the San Mamés Football stadium, which has been designed by IDOM/ACXT Architects. In 2015 at the World Architecture festival in Singapur it was named Best Stadium world wide!

And my absolutely favorite building, because of it´s originality  is the Alhondiga, which has been renamed in 2015 Askuna Zentroa, after the ex-mayor of Bilbao who initiated and pushed all these architectural changes of the city. 

The original modernist building has been designed by the Architect Ricardo Bastida as a wine ware house and was inaugurated in 1909. In the 70´s the warehouse was relocated and the building remained empty for almost 40 years, until Askuna decided to give this building a new use as culture and leisure centre. 

French designer Philippe Starck in collaboration with Thibaut Mathieu, were in charge of the total reform of the building hosting now a cinema multiplex, a  theatre, a fitness centre, a library, showrooms, an auditorium, shops, restaurants, a bar and a gallery.

Of the old building only the facade remains and in the inside three huge brick cube “buildings” arise like in an industrial film set, resting on 43 pillars, each one representing another culture which has marked human history and is made of different materials and techniques. Lorenzo Baraldi, the Italian stage designer, has materialized Philippe Starck’s cinematographic vision of this space in his own particular interpretation. 

The glass walls from the inside allow you to have a direct view into the kitchen of it´s restaurant, turning cooks into actors, but also the visitors of the public library who have a seat for a read, seem to participate in this staging! So do the people who work in the first floor office… It´s fantastic! 

An other highlight of this building is the glass floor of the swimming pool, which allows the public at ground floor level, to observe the shadows of swimmers 3 floors above them.

From the ceiling in the central square a huge screen is suspended from above showing a live image of the sun with all the details of its eruptions – fascinating!

Around the building the staging idea continues and invites the visitors to make use of the setting!

With many more details for you to discover, this building with all it´s activities is a definite must see.

Here you can go for a virtual tour:

But of course, there is nothing like seeing the real thing, so get planing your trip to Bilbao now!

As always, all images are linked to their original source via my pinterest folder.

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