Postcard Scenes

Architecture for Tourism

Estrella de Diego 

Suddenly there it was, in that rather abandoned part of Bilbao, like an apparition. More metal, if possible, in the city’s grayish light, the rough light of the river. In steel, stunning like a surprise in titanium, the Guggenheim building sparked the imagination of everyone wishing to see it from outside and later visit inside, to admire the content that would never be at a par with the container.

It was a one-time chance, they said, to recover the area, to boost tourism, to stimulate people uninitiated in contemporary architecture to develop an eye for novelty, novelty that at the close of the 1990s fell within the national (and international) obsession with creating museums that were first and foremost memorable works of architecture. But none like this strange and unexpected building which, it was rumored, was the first attraction in what could have become a kind of theme park of works by celebrity architects. In fact, soon after the museum opened in 1997, there was talk of commissioning Gehry-like stars to build several buildings around, including a hotel, and create a unique enclave for tourism. Excitement would be spurred for the sculpture-buildings which in that period of economic boom represented a new way of designing the world, in particular the cultural world. What happened inside was of little importance; what mattered was what one saw from the outside. In this way, function – the essential idea in architecture for the modern project – was reduced to almost nothing, a fragment, a surface...

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