Frank Gehry may be the architect most associated with Bilbao, but he is not the only one. Stand by the Basque city’s state-of-the-art football stadium—built at a cost of €211 million, half of it from public funds—and look down to the abandoned industrial buildings by the Nervión river, 30 meters below. Zorrotzaurre is the latest area of the former port city to be earmarked for redevelopment, under a master plan by the late British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid.
It is two kilometers around the river from Bilbao’s most famous landmark, the Guggenheim Bilbao, and it gives a flavor of how grim the site must have looked before the landmark museum’s arrival. During the 1980s, the city’s industries—iron, steel, and shipbuilding—were in decline. At its worst, unemployment hit 25 percent and—after decades of insurrection—a low point was reached when the Basque paramilitary group ETA murdered three police officers with a car bomb in the city in 1989. The river environment was polluted, blighted by gridlocked traffic and crumbling warehouses.
Today, the Frank Gehry-designed museum is the jewel in Bilbao’s cultural crown, a folded, titanium-clad “ship” nestling low in the water, next to the La Salve roadbridge, on an attractive riverfront walkway. Since it opened in 1997, it has captured local and international imaginations. For the traveling public, it is a spectacular—and Instagramable—contemporary art museum. For politicians, city planners, architects, and museum directors, it represents the ability of cultural institutions to regenerate run-down regions. This week, invited guests, journalists, and regional dignitaries will gather for five days of events to celebrate its opening 20 years ago. Read more