The Bilbao Effect—What is it?

Feature Photo by Oskar Lavi?a on Freeimages

Iconic buildings can resurrect a dying city and transform it into one of the most prominent cities in the world. This effect is also known as the Bilbao Effect. But what makes a building iconic?

The Bilbao effect is a significant or attention-grabbing structure that is different brought to the location.

Iconic buildings are symbols for a city­. It’s a statement about a nation’s history and identity. It is a monument which affects how people feel. Throughout history, architectural innovation and emotional response is an essential factor in becoming iconic. However, an “iconic” building is not necessarily designed but is decided by the public.

You will find buildings that can be used by everyone are generally held in greater affection than those that are reserved for the privileged few. If a building is iconic on these various levels, it stands a better chance of becoming truly iconic.
— Brewer Gulf

In the 1980s, new design proposals took place to enhance Bilbao in response to the economic crisis; projects like the International Airport by Santiago Calatrava and the Metro network by Norman Foster. During this surge of new development projects, the government was hoping that Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim would help revive the dying city of Bilbao, which it did. When the Guggenheim Museum was introduced to Bilbao in 1990, it had attracted a lot of attention. Thousands of architects, journalists, historians and artists came to visit the site. Located along the Nervion River­—a monumental element stooped in history—The Guggenheim embraces the identity of the city and its people.

It’s always better to tap into local culture rather than buy it from outside. You can’t do culture in a city without involving citizens
— Simon Brault, Head of the Arts Council of Canada

Simon Brault explains how famous architects design iconic buildings that can heavily influence the city and even change its definition; however, doing this could dominate its past, erasing the inherent culture. Therefore the design must relate to its context and its history.

During the development of the city, the Guggenheim was one of Bilbao’s most significant investments, and Gehry knew that it would play an essential role in the urban revitalisation and transformation of the city. Guggenheim’s irregular form is avant-garde, an innovative and radical style, a manner of architectural expressionism. It had a massive impact on the economy, creating around 4,400 jobs. 85% of the visitors in Bilbao have reported that the primary purpose of their visit was to see the Guggenheim. The growth of the local economy after the recent opening was worth €168 million, bringing Bilbao out the economic crisis and into its new-found future. This redefinition has turned Bilbao from an industrial manufacturing city into one of the most cultural metropolises in Spain.