The port city of Bilbao has traditionally been home to heavy industry; a number of redevelopment projects were begun there during the recession in the late 1980s. A museum was intended to be a catalyst to developing tourism in the region, and a way to demonstrate the city’s efforts to cultivate a new, culturally independent identity. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation was selected to operate it. A suitable site was found on the eastern end of a former industrial area on the Nervión River, practically in the center of the city. Three architectural offices were invited to the international competition: Arata Isozaki for Asia, Frank O.Gehry for America, and Coop Himmelb(l)au for Europe. Rather than filling a functional program with plans and models, the idea was to develop a visionary concept for a new kind of museum.

Urban design concept:
From the location of the long, east–west oriented empty lot, Coop Himmelb(l)au’s design develops a network of hierarchical relationships that connect it like energy lines to the most important cultural institutions on both banks of the city: the city hall, Bilbao’s existing art museum, the Teatro Arriaga, and the University of Deusto.
Beyond the tasks of exhibiting works of art, the proposal for the space formulates the museum of our time as a place where artists at work can also be experienced. Hence cultural exchange and the art of the region can be supported directly and be brought to international attention.

Spacial concept:
A central plaza is framed by two exhibition spaces in elongated halls with a compact main building for the Guggenheim’s permanent collection and temporary exhibitions. Next to it, and floating above it, is a group of multifunctional spaces for artists, ranging between 280 and 1,300 square meters, condensed into just a few volumes. They vary in the degree to which they stand out against the entry level; two smaller artists’ spaces are located directly on the plaza and thus face the public most directly. A spiral skywalk curves around the entire arrangement. It connects the studios to the exhibition spaces on all levels; as a dynamic formal element, it penetrates them and opens up the introverted studio blocks to one another and to the city.

Square Footage: 28.000 m²
Volume: 225.000 m²





COOP HIMMELB(L)AU Wolf D. Prix, Helmut Swiczinsky + Partner
Design Principal: Wolf D. Prix
Project Architect: Klaus Stattmann, Klaus Wailzer
Project Team: Michael Karassowitsch, Eva Kornherr, Susanne Madl, Judith Mussel, Evelyne Tambour

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