The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a museum of modern and contemporary art, designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, built by Ferrovial, and located in Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain. It is built alongside the Nervion River, which runs through the city of Bilbao to the Atlantic Coast. The Guggenheim is one of several museums belonging to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. The museum features permanent and visiting exhibits of works by Spanish and international artists.
One of the most admired works of contemporary architecture, the building has been hailed as a “signal moment in the architectural culture”, because it represents “one of those rare moments when critics, academics, and the general public were all completely united about something.” The museum was the building most frequently named as one of the most important works completed since 1980 in the 2010 World Architecture Survey among architecture experts.
The curves on the building were to appear random. The architect said that “the randomness of the curves are designed to catch the light”. When it was opened to the public in 1997, it was immediately hailed as one of the world’s most spectacular buildings in the style of Deconstructivism, although Gehry does not associate himself with that architectural movement. Architect Philip Johnson called it “the greatest building of our time”.
The museum’s design, and construction, serve as an object lesson in Gehry’s style and method. Like many of Gehry’s other works, it has a structure that consists of radically sculpted, organic contours. Sited as it is in a port town, it is intended to resemble a ship. Its brilliantly reflective titanium panels resemble fish scales, echoing the other organic life (and, in particular, fish-like) forms, that recur commonly in Gehry’s designs, as well as the river Nervión, upon which the museum sits. Also in typical Gehry fashion, the building is uniquely a product of the period’s technology. Computer Aided Three Dimensional Interactive Application (CATIA) and visualizations were used heavily in the structure’s design.
The building was constructed on time and budget, which is rare for architecture of this type. In an interview in Harvard Design Magazine Gehry explained how he did it. First, he ensured that what he calls the “organization of the artist” prevailed during construction, in order to prevent political and business interests from interfering with the design. Second, he made sure he had a detailed and realistic cost estimate before proceeding. Third, he used CATIA and collaborated closely with the individual building trades to control costs during construction.