The Building That Flew
Some people say it looks like a giant titanium bird about to take flight.
My wife Yvonne and I had seen photos of it, but they didn’t compare to the real thing. We had just arrived at our hotel in Bilbao, Spain, and a group of us decided to walk up the river to see the building. Rounding a corner, we caught sight of it.
I gasped. I think we all did. It was the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, designed by architect Frank Gehry.
We toured the city over the next couple of days but kept returning to see the Guggenheim, because it looked different at each time of day. Above is a shot that I took one evening at dusk.
I recently was reminded of our experience in Bilbao when I read a fascinating article about the process of building the Guggenheim. The article explained that, in addition to being an artistic tour de force, it was a logistical success, coming in on time and under budget. You can read the article here.
When we went inside the museum, I was struck by a difference between the Guggenheim and its sister building, Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. The Disney, which I love, shows almost no relationship between the interior and exterior—both are great, but they could be in completely different buildings; whereas the Guggenheim exterior echoes the spaces inside, which are beautifully designed for the display of art.
The Guggenheim has been a civic success as well. In the early 1990s, city leaders developed a bold plan to radically transform Bilbao from a blighted industrial area to a hub for tourism and the arts. The centerpiece was to be a new museum. They committed to Gehry and the Guggenheim, and their plan succeeded spectacularly, as our tour of the city showed.
Gehry’s masterpiece served its purpose financially and logistically. What I liked best, though, was standing across the river and watching it take flight.