The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is an art museum located in Bilbao, Spain, that was designed by the famous modernist architect Frank Gehry. It is one of the most widely celebrated examples of modern architectural design.

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History of the Museum

By the 1990s, the city’s port area, once the thriving centre of its economy, had fallen into disrepair. Local authorities were trying hard to think of a way to rejuvenate it. In 1991, the government of the Basque region offered to fund the construction of a Guggenheim museum in the port.

The government paid $100 million for the museum to be built, and also agreed to an annual $12 million budget payment. Spanish infrastructure company Ferrovial carried out the construction, which was completed in 1997. A big opening ceremony was held on the night of October 18 that year, where King Juan Carlos I of Spain officially opened the doors. 5000 people came to the ceremony, which included a light show and live music.

Architecture of the Museum

Architect Frank Gehry was encouraged to be bold with the design of the building. Gehry said that he wanted the curves on the exterior to seem random and reflect light in a random way, and he wanted the interior to be dominated by the view of the Basque countryside.

Upon its opening, the building was lauded worldwide for its style, which many labelled as deconstructivist (although Gehry himself did not identify his work with that movement). Critics considered it one of the greatest architectural works of the 20th century.

The metal, stone and glass of the museum are supposed to allow the building to blend seamlessly into the urban landscape around it. It sits by the Nervion river and occupies a 350,000 square foot site. It had the most exhibition space of all of Guggenheim’s museums that had been built at the time, 120,000 square foot in total.

There are nineteen galleries on the inside, ten of which follow a regular shape and the other nine of which have a strange, irregular, curving shape which can be seen from the outside. The biggest of these galleries is over 420 foot long.

Very unusually for a building of this kind, it was finished on time and under budget, costing only $89 million. Gehry claims to have achieved this through the implementation of his special method: “the organisation of the artist”. In this strategy, the artist gets complete control over the construction of the building and does not allow politicians and business people to interfere. He also made use of computer modelling software, as well as being very careful with the plans and cost estimates.

The museum houses works, often large, by contemporary artists. Basque artists are always featured.