Museum Turns City Around

Bilbao, Spain, has undergone a noticeable rejuvenation in the 10 years since Frank Gehry's iconic Guggenheim Museum opened its doors.

"Even for those who couldn't spell 'Bilbao,' let alone pronounce it (bill-BAH-o), the city became synonymous with the ensuing worldwide rush by urbanists to erect trophy buildings, in the hopes of turning second-tier cities into tourist magnets. The so-called Bilbao Effect was studied in universities throughout the world as a textbook example of how to repackage cities with "wow-factor" architecture. And as cities from Denver to Dubai followed in Bilbao's footsteps, Mr. Gehry and his fellow starchitects were elevated to the role of urban messiahs."

"But what has the Bilbao Effect meant for Bilbao?"

"The impact on this city of 354,000 was dramatic. Charmless business hotels and musty pensions were supplanted by trendy hotels like the Domine Bilbao and a Sheraton designed by the Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta. The rusty shipyards near the Guggenheim were razed for a manicured greenbelt of playgrounds, bicycle paths and riverside cafes. A lime-green tram was strung along the river, linking the Guggenheim to Casco Viejo and beyond."

"A tangle of construction cranes today rises over the city's terra-cotta rooftops, but the changes are already apparent at the street level. Bilbao, a muscular town of steelworkers and engineers, is slowly becoming a more effete city of hotel clerks and art collectors."

"The beautification was echoed throughout the city. Traffic circles like Plazas Campuzano and Indauxtu had been transformed into piazza-like parks, with sculptural lampposts, ergonomic benches and ultramodern landscaping. In place of polluting cars, laughing children now use them as impromptu soccer fields."

Full Story: Bilbao, 10 Years Later

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