Monday, November 10, 2008

The Bilbao Effect

Truly great architecture can transform a city district. This was dramatically demonstrated in Bilbao, Spain with Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum. It draws around 1 million tourists per year, 80 percent of whom come just to see the museum. Hotels and swank boutiques have filled in what used to be an industrial waterfront. The results have been termed "the Bilbao Effect," and have become a model for cities across the world looking to rejuvenate a district.

In our region, the Milwaukee Museum of Art has tried to emulate that model. To a much lesser degree, the Guthrie Theater (shown) in Minneapolis has used architecture to boost nearby development. However, the Guthrie probably tries too hard to fit in with its environment. Game-changing landmark architecture doesn't fit in. It says to the world that it's the king of the hill.

From a visual standpoint, the Weisman Art Museum has this look, but it doesn't have the scale or location to allow it to serve as a catalyst for further development.

What all these venues have in common is a location along a waterfront. What do you do if you want to create something dramatic that can increase development but that's away from the water or other scenic location?

Valencia, Spain figured out the answer. Rather than just one great piece of architecture, they commissioned an entire neighborhood of truly stunning buildings. The impact has been enormous. I'll talk more about it in my next entry.

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