Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain

“My father used to call me a dreamer, which he didn’t mean as a compliment, and he was right.  He just underestimated the power of dreaming.” – Frank Gehry.

Frank Gehry, the architect of Guggenheim Museum.  Both one of my favourite architect and building.  It is located in Bilbao of Spain.  The building designed by Frank Gehry is often able to go beyond current modalities of structural definition and drastically divorced from its original context.   The end results could be like a silk or smooth paper being freely and beautifully folded.   It is no surprise why Frank Gehry said we should not underestimate the power of dream once we see Guggenheim Museum.  One without dream is impossible to contrust such a uniquie building that might only appear in the dream.

Bilbao, where Guggenheim Museum located is not in the main route where normally tourists travel especially to Asian traveller.  It is located at Basque county (northern Spain next to France) and has some distances from both Madrid and Barcelona.

In year 2011, when I planned my Morocco / Europe trip,  the idea of visiting Guggenheim Musuem keep pumping up in my mind since I will cross the Gibraltar Strait from Morocco to Spain.   I found budget airline Vueling and Iberia both fly there from Barcelona.  The airfare is not really budget as what the budget airline supposes to be.  The cheapest came about EU160 (it is equivalent to S$288 at that time) return.  Should I spend this amount of money to just visit Guggenheim Museum?  A building that I long wish to witness with my own eyes?

Well.  I struggled for a least a week to consider go or not go because it is a 26 days trip and I have certain time constraint and money budget to consider.  Well.. we shall invest our life in what we love.  I made it at the end with just a click to purchase the air ticket.   I have no regret at all after my visit.  Life should be more spontaneous in this way without too much consideration sometimes.   Just do it.  You will have more better memories in your life in this way.

I decided to stay Bilbao for a night instead of just day trip so my chances to have good weather is higher to admire my favourite building (first day afternoon upon arrival and the next morning if the first afternoon weather is bad).  This end up another right decision because it did rain and weather is mostly cloudy in the first day when I arrived Bilbao.  Since I was not leaving in the first day, I have ample time to stay and walk around the museum for the whole afternoon.  Occasionally the clouds decided to split away and let a little bit of sunlight shine on the titanium surface of the museum.   It is definitely not the best light I wish but it is enough to give me the magical feeling to observe how the titamium wall with randomly shape and curve catch the changing sunlight.  This is part of the intention of Frank Gehry.  He awared that Bilbao receives a lot of rain per year and so to use titanium as the main material for the building surface would help to catch the natural light even in a cloudy and rainy day.   Titanium is not a cheap material to use for a building.  However, Frank Gehry’s team was fortunate enough to have titanium in lower price due to a titanium factory in Russia closed down at the time when musuem was building.  Well, Guggenheim Mueum end up to be one of the world’s most spectacular buildings, a masterpiece of the 20 century.

“A fantastic dream ship of undulating form in a cloak of titanium, its brilliantly reflective panels also reminiscent of fish scales”  – Critic Calvin Tomkins in The New Yorker.

“The greatest building of our time” – Architect Calvin Tomkins.

This is the history.  In 1991, the Basque government suggested to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation that it would fund a Guggenheim museum to be built in Bilbao’s decrepit port area, once the city’s main source of income.  Frank Gehry was encouraged by the director of the Foundation to design something daring and innovative.  The museum opened in 1997.  Immediately after its opening, the museum became a popular tourist attraction (4 million tourists visited the museum and generate Euro 500 million in economic activty).   The taxes collected from the hotels, restaurant, shops and transport itself is more than paid for the building cost.  The so-called “Bilbao effect” refers to how the museum transformed the city (source – wikipedia).  This is amazing because before the museum, Bilbao is just an faded industrial town.

The weather got better in the late afternoon.   We have asked for special permission to leave the museum to catch photo of the building in dark blue evening light and re-entered the museum later.   I enjoyed the exhibition in the museum as well as the building structure.  It is not allowed to take photo inside the museum.  It is good because this give me a chance to enjoy the works in more relax and peaceful way instead of busily taking picture.  Sometimes I do wonder why I need to take so many photos and whether did I miss out anything by doing this.

The rain started again while we went up to a flyover tried to take a bird eye view photo of the museum.  I think we were crazy at that time because we spent almost 7 hours inside and around the museum (including a tasteful late lunch in the museum cafe).  But again, it was another memorable trip.  Definitely have to mention the people of Bilbao.  They are one of the friendliest people I ever met.

Just a side story.

Because I like Frank Gehry and Guggenheim Museum so much, it was a big surprise to me to know that Frank Gehry and his team is the designer of the Integrated Resort (a casino resort) for one of the bidder (Kerzner International with Capiland) of Sentosa Island (Singapore) Integrated Resort back in year 2006.

He created an enormous organic structure consisting of several domains.  The resort was to host a huge Atlantis themed museum, botanical gardens, water parks, health spa, hotels, casino etc.   It is an amazing work.  To view the work –

I could not believe Singapore can have the chance to have such a great building as Guggenheim Museum.  It turns out to be true.  Frank Gehry’s design and the bidder finally lost to Genting International and Star Cruises.  The design of Frank Gehry for the intergrated resort is even far more innovative and daring than Guggenheim Museum.  The main materials are glasses (Frank Gehry switched to use metal to glasses for most of his design in his later part of career).  It is quite dissapointed to know one of the minister even commented he could not imagine how could a casinon looks in that way.  That’s tell the reason why Singapore is so wealth off and yet does not have any outstanding building to showcase the world until recently when the government realized Singapore need to be more innovative in design..  A number of well designed building are coming out.

Really just a side story.  I even see some forums commented about the Frank Gehry at that time.  The Effifel Tower of Paris has received a lot of bad comments too before it was built.  Anyway, I like one of the comments – “The first thought I got when I saw the picture was that it look like 1 large gunk of pisai (nose shit) actually.. That said, the real thing might turn out to be real different from what we are seeing here.  One things for sure, its gonna be really eye popping if the deisgn really wins, we are gonna be famous again!”.

Yes.. I would definitely like to see “Bilbao Effect” to be happened in Singapore one day.

To view some other outstanding building designed by Frank Gehry –

In Prague –

In LA –

In Massachusetts Institue of Technology (MIT), USA –


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