The Bilbao effect
July 26, 2008 1:19 PM   Subscribe

Has the "Bilbao effect" been confined to Bilbao?

Architect Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Musem in Bilbao, Spain has been credited with sparking a complete reversal of fortunes for the whole city. Many other large-scale projects have tried to emulate its success, but I can't think of a similar success story despite several billions being spent.

I wondered if the hive could come up with similar examples? Has the construction of a single building been able to transform the fortunes of an entire city?
posted by MrMerlot to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The Taj Mahal.
posted by clearly at 1:46 PM on July 26, 2008

I would put money this was done when the Sydney Opera House opened in that city. There were large protests to call for its construction, a huge amount of controversy. But when it was completed, it became a pinnacle for tourism and business to rally around. Although I will note I don't know a single person who's been to Sydney and who has been to an actual performance in the opera house itself.

However I think the big reason it worked like it did in Sydney and in Bilbao is that those cities really didn't have much to rally around before that was not tied to political yearnings. In sydney it was for both greater municipal authority away from Canberra and republicanism to an extent. In Bilbao it was for Basque autonomy. But also these structures did not rely on authoritarianism or a political sensibility to gain their place in the minds of citizens. If you think about cities where the architecture is bestowed by the regime, like in London with the Parliament building and dueling with the City of London and the Mayor's Office over rules there or in Washington, DC where the city is 'free and self-governed' but the oversight is there from the congress to a very large extent over laws and budgets.

The Bilbao Effect simply does not happen when the centerpiece building is created for federal action and use.
posted by parmanparman at 1:54 PM on July 26, 2008

Best answer: As many have pointed out, the success of the Guggenheim Bilbao is difficult, if not impossible, to replicate. The Basque government made an initial investment in the museum of more than $100 million and continues to provide ongoing support for operations and acquisitions. The museum was not a one-off project, but part of a regional economic development plan that also included a bridge and an airport terminal by Mr. Calatrava, a railway station designed by Norman Foster, a riverfront renewal project by Cesar Pelli, and several other commissions from celebrity architects.

In addition, the Guggenheim Bilbao benefited by being the first extraordinary-looking museum building. As Mr. Gordon noted: "Being second or third is not as much of a coup."

From here.
posted by mdonley at 2:16 PM on July 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

After the Great Fire destroyed Chicago in 1871, the city attracted many architects who, within decade or two, made it the "city of the skyscraper." The 1893 World Columbian Exposition was sort of the icing on the cake, and I suspect that's why Chicago is the city it is today, and not just another Milwaukee or Detroit or Cleveland.

Szeged, in Hungary, is one of my favorite places in Europe. After an 1879 flood wiped out all but a couple of hundred houses, it was rebuilt in beautiful style and remains pretty lovely today - and now there are more than 175,000 people living there.

Sibiu, in Romania comes to mind. I was there in 2006 and thought it was a kind of pleasant, albeit run-down, small Saxon / Romanian city. I went back last year and could believe the astronomical changes - so much was rebuilt, repainted, repaired and constructed (all because it was the EU's "European Capital Of Culture" for 2007.) Given how rundown much of Romania is, it was startling. And there must have been forty times as many tourists. Whether this has any long-term effect I can't say.

Unfortunately, I read about a lot of places, especially in Eastern Europe, where cities are having a tough time just keeping up with the maintenance of already existing monuments. It seems like there are many towns across the globe - neglected sea ports, beautiful villages, industrial-era cities - that would be magical places with huge infusions of cash. But more often, a city thinks its fortunes will turn on a new mall or zoo or something. That always seems optimistic to me, but it's probably just what can be afforded. Most places don't seem to have the money to attempt a "Bilbao effect," even if its success were likely.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:42 PM on July 26, 2008

Although you'll find people on both sides of the debate arguing either side of the issue, the primary reason various municipalities even bother with publicly funded athletic stadiums is the hope that the stadium will attract follow-on businesses -- hotels, restaurants, shopping, etc. There are plenty of examples of both new stadiums and recently renovated stadiums.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:51 PM on July 26, 2008

What about Columbus, Indiana?
posted by parmanparman at 2:53 PM on July 26, 2008

Disney in Orlando?
posted by mhuckaba at 4:22 PM on July 26, 2008

You may be reading too much into this. Bilbao was a unique case in some ways, but there were a lot of factors beyond just the building. It wasn't just a museum, it was the first European arm of the Guggenheim. It was in a city ripe for tourism experiencing a lull in the long Basque separatist violence that gave the region a bad reputation. Spain was finally booming after 15 to 20 years of playing catch-up with the rest of Europe economically. It showed up in a James Bond movie. And so on.

Many times a civic or commercial project does not live up to its wildest promises, but that doesn't mean it was a failure. A large city often spends a decade or two pulling various elements together to make its downtown more successful. Chicago is an example of such a city, where there was a nearly-complete drought of about a decade in building new office space in the Loop. Then a few projects began to click, the city began to redevelop places like Navy Pier and Grant Park, and after a while the city began to feel new and vibrant rather than stagnant and coasting. I can tell you that before it was installed nobody thought "The Bean" would become a new symbol of the city, and the whole Millennium Park addition to Grant Park, including a Gehry-designed orchestral pavilion and bridge, was viewed as a major boondoggle. But now it's generally seen as a success.
posted by dhartung at 9:59 PM on July 26, 2008

...Disney Hall in LA have not had a similar effect for their respective cities.

Eh? I don't think Los Angeles as a whole really needed revitalizing. But if you're referring specifically to downtown, there is a huge amount of development going on there right now. The Staples Center had something to do with it, but mainly the city and private investors are just pouring a crapload of money into it.

And for what it's worth, the Disney Concert Hall is beautiful and the most acoustically perfect building I have ever been in.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:25 AM on July 27, 2008

The Economist had a correspondent's diary recently about MassMOCA, The Clark and the effect it and other such institutions have had on the Berkshires, an area in Western Massachusetts.
posted by Kattullus at 10:12 AM on July 28, 2008

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