Gallery: Guggenheim Bilbao - Frank Gehry

Created by:
Ethan Kent, May 17, 2005

Short description:
One of the worlds most famous and, in many ways, successful pieces of architecture has created unsuccessful (and even dangerous) public spaces.

Long description:
Great architecture and great public spaces should go hand and hand but, unfortunately, they seldom do. The arrogance of the Guggenheim Bilbao and the narrow approach to design and development it portends, is incompatible with a vibrant public realm. The public spaces around this building are a void in the civic life of a great city. One might argue that this building has brought attention to Bilbao, but in many ways that attention has been a distraction, or perhaps an ephemeral high, for a city that has some of the best public spaces in Europe. By deliberately not just ignoring context but pushing away and hiding the cultural and social life of Bilbao, this building takes back much of what it gives to the city.


Frank Gehry Guggenheim riverfront architecture bilbao spain ek 2003
Frank Gehry Guggenheim riverfront architecture bilbao spain ek 2003  

One of the world’s most famous buildings, this museum is in many ways an attractive and impressive piece of architecture. Unfortunately, as a public space it is extremely unsuccessful -- even dangerous.
Frank Gehry Guggenheim architecture bilbao spain ek 2003
Frank Gehry Guggenheim architecture bilbao spain ek 2003  

Situated prominently on the waterfront near the center of Bilbao, the building interrupts the life of the city, and is an insult to pedestrians who would like to use the space for anything other than gawking at the building.
Frank Gehry Guggenheim steps stairs access building entrance bilbao spain ek 2003
Frank Gehry Guggenheim steps stairs access building entrance bilbao spain ek 2003  

The main entranceway stairs are pitched so that people end up pushing off the same leg every time they step up. These museum-goers look exhausted, and they're only halfway to the top.
Bilbao, Spain
Bilbao, Spain  

A thief finds solace in the continuous blank walls of Franks Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao seconds before swiping a tourists camera.
Frank Gehry Guggenheim security thieves benches trees bilbao spain ek 2003
Frank Gehry Guggenheim security thieves benches trees bilbao spain ek 2003  

Moments after this picture was taken, these two men mugged a couple (the same couple that appeared exhausted on the entranceway steps) of their camera.
Frank Gehry Guggenheim stairs to no where bilbao spain ek 2003
Frank Gehry Guggenheim stairs to no where bilbao spain ek 2003  

It is not clear if these stairs actually lead to anywhere. The building challenges locals and tourists (not to mentioned handicapped people) to enter some very uninviting public spaces and entrance ways.
Frank Gehry Guggenheim aproach entrance bilbao spain ek 2003
Frank Gehry Guggenheim aproach entrance bilbao spain ek 2003  

People pass through this space as quickly as possible as there is nothing to do here but be impressed by the architecture. What seems to be the logical entrance to the museum turns out to be a café - with no entry from the outside.
Frank Gehry Guggenheim back entrance bilbao spain ek 2003
Frank Gehry Guggenheim back entrance bilbao spain ek 2003  

A virtually amenity free area, the building tries to distance itself from the city and human beings that might want to use it's spaces.
Frank Gehry Guggenheim blank wall security bilbao spain ek 2003
Frank Gehry Guggenheim blank wall security bilbao spain ek 2003  

The exterior of the museum provides nothing for visitors to relate to on a human scale.
Frank Gehry Guggenheim moat water feature bilbao spain ek 2003
Frank Gehry Guggenheim moat water feature bilbao spain ek 2003  

A reflecting pond uses up more valuable waterfront space and serves effectively as a moat to distance the building from its urban waterfront context.
Frank Gehry Guggenheim riverfront walkway classical architecture bilbao spain ek 2003
Frank Gehry Guggenheim riverfront walkway classical architecture bilbao spain ek 2003  

Walking below the building, pedestrains seemed more inclined to look out across the water.
Frank Gehry Guggenheim security blank wall bilbao spain ek 2003
Frank Gehry Guggenheim security blank wall bilbao spain ek 2003  

Like a good english muffin, the Guggenheim Bilbao sports a lot of nooks and crannies. This one creates a dark crevice completely outside the scope of the nearby security camera.
Frank Gehry Guggenheim steps ramp access bilbao spain ek 2003
Frank Gehry Guggenheim steps ramp access bilbao spain ek 2003  

The stair would be redeemed if its gentle incline improved access for people with disabilities, but judging from this photo, the comfort of wheelchair users was not a real consideration.
Railing on Steps at the Guggenhein Museum in Bilbao
Railing on Steps at the Guggenhein Museum in Bilbao  

This zigzagging railing is not useful to those who need help climbing the awkwardly spaced steps.
Frank Gehry Guggenheim interior atrium bilbao spain ek 2003
Frank Gehry Guggenheim interior atrium bilbao spain ek 2003  

The interior spaces seem equally oppressive.
Frank Gehry Guggenheim seating affection sociability bilbao spain ek 2003
Frank Gehry Guggenheim seating affection sociability bilbao spain ek 2003  

As soon as one moves away from the presence of the building, normal human activity resumes and the city comes back to life. Even affection is displayed.