“To be transformational it needed to be a disruptive project, it needed to change the paradigm of how things were being done. Any project that starts with that ambition needs to assume it will face many challenges”.


It starts with an entity. Something possessing or representing a value. Whatever that value may be, and however or by whomever it was accrued, the entity become significant. And so we treat them with appropriate care; the physical conserved and displayed, the ephemeral documented. We interpret; we listen to what these entities have to say and distribute their stories. We place them in books, boxes, and vitrines, and house them in specially designed buildings.

Museums are wondrous infrastructures of interpretation, custodians of history and enablers of education. The best museums readdress the past and question preconceptions. The very best museums have a reach that extends their geography, challenging world views and transforming whole areas.

The Guggenheim Bilbao is one such museum. Now in its twentieth year, Frank O. Gehry’s iconic building was erected in a city wrought with terrorism and industrial decline. A mainstay in Bilbao’s wider reformation, which included cleaning the estuary and a new Metro system, the Guggenheim’s global perspective resurrected the city’s zestful past, ushering in a cultural, social, and economic boom.

Born in Bilbao, Director General Juan Ignacio Vidarte maintains an astute perspective on the revolutionary success of the museum, placing it within a wider historical and cultural strategy. “The effects can only be understood if you understand it as part of a broader scheme of things which started before and after the museum opened. It is a much more cosmopolitan, much more vibrant city, a city which is really open to the outside. Bilbao has still retained its character. Bilbao has always been throughout the centuries a very culturally active city, and a very dynamic city. It’s opened up to the world.”

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