The outer skin of the building consists of 33000 extremely thin titanium sheets

The iconic museum building in Bilbao in northern Spain opened its doors in October 1997 to ecstatic international acclaim from architects, critics and visitors alike. Designed by Frank Gehry and built on a former shipyard site and wharf for industrial use on a curve of the River Nervión, the museum was part of an ambitious urban renewal program conceived by the Basque regional government. Renown architects were invited to design new structures, such as the much debated pedestrian bridge nearby designed by Santiago Calatrava and the metro system by Norman Foster from England.

Due to the mathematical complexity of the undulating design, Frank Gehry decided to work with an advanced software initially conceived for the aerospace industry. The outer skin of the building, approximately 33,000 extremely thin titanium sheets, provide an organic, fish scale-like surface effect. The cool titanium harmonize perfectly with the warm limestone and glass, the other two materials used in the building. The totality of the architectural design is one of great visual impact that has become a real icon of Bilbao, drawing huge numbers of visitors from all over the world to the former industrial town.

Guggenheim by the River Nervión
Guggenheim by the River Nervión

Art inside, art outside

© Guggenheim Bilbao
© Guggenheim Bilbao

The building itself, its silvery surface and organic, flowing lines and seemingly ever-changing shapes make up an impressive work of architectonic art on its own, to be admired from every angle, any time, day or night. Can the art exhibited on the inside really match this massive work of sculptural art that this building is?

On ground level is an enormous, column-free space that houses Richard Serra’s permanent installation The Matter of Time.

The main galleries on the second and third floor are predictably rectangular exhibition rooms, spacious with excellent lighting. In the atrium, and especially from the catwalks looking down, you have a good view of the slightly chaotic construction of the interior of the building.

There are a number of artworks installed outside such as the giant spider Maman, almost nine meters tall, by Louise Bourgeois, Jeff Koons’ famous puppy and metallic tulips, and the 12 meters tall sculpture of silver spheres, Tall Tress and The Eye by Anish Kapoor. The museum site is crossed at one end by La Salve Bridge that supports the Arcos rojos (Red Arch) sculpture by Daniel Buren.

Tall Tress and The Eye by Anish Kapoor
Tall Tress and The Eye by Anish Kapoor

For updates on current and coming exhibitions check out Guggenheim Bilbao’s website

All photos by Asgeir Pedersen except where indicated.
This is a revised version of the article, first published in January 2017.
Bilbao Turismo
Guggenheim Bilbao
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