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Capital of the world: Bilbao

Capital of the world: Bilbao

Bilbao looks neat and beautiful and is more proud than ever to have reinvented itself. In the last year competition has come to the Guggenheim (if that is possible) with new boulevards and squares, unique buildings and more equipment. The walk of Abandoibarra , Alhóndiga Bilbao , the Euskadi square -with the Iberdrola tower as the new icon of the city-, the Bilbao Arena and the pelota court, in Mirivilla; the tram, more metro stations … are the plan to attract not only more visitors to the city, but also to convince young professionals, inside and outside of Bilbao, to stay and live there.

The capital of Vizcaya wanted to be placed on the world map thanks to architecture and has achieved it. Now, the managers of the city intend to take advantage of urban transformation to be a reference in technology and creativity. After winning the Lee Kwan Yew Award, considered the Nobel Prize for urbanism, now seeks to become the village of knowledge. His new motto is “the smart city”.

Among the rusted irons of a steel crisis, which put 30% of its population unemployed, and floods in the floods in 1983, Bilbao found the philosopher’s stone to be reborn and become a model of urban recovery that makes school in the world. It is known that the alchemist with the power to transform titanium into gold is called the Guggenheim Museum. Few people in Bilbao recognize it now, but in 1997, hardly anyone believed in this magnet, which attracted almost one million visitors in 2010. Why throw money at a museum if what was needed was employment? But the industrial monoculture of steel was already unrecoverable: the blast furnaces and the shipyards had become obsolete, the overwhelming Southeast Asia was replacing the heavy industry in Europe and no company wanted to settle in a city that was a real junkyard. “You have to be honest: the environment was not our concern at all. The urgency was to get a job. And we knew that in the future I would be in the services. We had to change all our physical chassis to become a postindustrial city, “explains Ibon Areso, first deputy mayor. He is a trained architect, but only a block of flats next to the Gordoniz bridge bears his signature. However, all the Bilbao of the last twenty years has the imprint of this politician, who already participated in the first plan of urban planning.

Although the environment was more a path than an end, the regeneration and cleansing of the Nervión is one of the greatest successes of the plan that was born in 1979, when the estuary went to the faecal waters of a million people and the detritus of Hundreds of heavy industries. Bilbao, like the Olympic Barcelona did with the sea, has opened to the estuary and if then animal life was nonexistent in its waters, now oxygen levels are around 60%, and have returned the seabass, the gilthead sea bream , the sole or the crabs. And the people of Bilbao, for the first time in generations, return to bathe in the estuary (although it is not yet allowed, due to the danger of the tides), like the almost 500 triathletes that in May covered the section between the bridge of Deusto and the one of the City council.

Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim stood on the grounds of the Bilbao Wood and Tar Society. “I was against spending money that we did not have in a pretty shell. I recognize my mistake, “explains Mikel Feijoo, owner of the Skunkfunk fashion brand. But if we had not had the economic concert and the ability to manage our money, the change would have been impossible. “

Then the palace of congresses and music signed by Federico Soriano and Dolores Palacio emerged from a dock in the Euskalduna shipyard. Now, new creatures of glass and concrete look out over the estuary to the amazement and envy of other municipalities that have tried to imitate the miracle and have stuck the bump.

In this area, there are hardly any vestiges of what were prosperous heavy industries and then urban waste. “Neither wish, it was a time of great decadence and sadness,” says José Luis Sancho, a retiree who contemplates the summer sunset with his eyes on the tiger that crowns one of Deusto’s buildings. Of the shipyards subtract a dike, some boats and the Carola crane, which are part of the Maritime Museum. “I’m fifty-something and I’ve lost the landscape of my childhood. Bilbao had a very strong industrial identity, you saw the physical work of the people, the shipping company, the ships, you heard the sirens … I still dream about that. 150 years of industrial history have disappeared “, longs Ernesto del Río, director of the Bilbao Film Commission, but, in return, the city hosts some seventy films a year, including advertising, television series and documentaries.

So lost the industrial references, we must look at the facade of the Euskalduna Palace, blue granite and rusty steel, which recalls the interior of the last ship that was built in the shipyard and has runways, like ships. Its architects baptized it as “the ghost ship of Wagner” and with the assembly of this opera celebrated its tenth anniversary last year. From the Euskalduna starts the Abandoibarra avenue, which reaches the Guggenheim. In the space occupied by the train tracks, the port sheds and the docks, a riverside promenade with lime trees, colorful jacarandas, begonias and very little Atlantic palm trees has been created.

From the botxo to the skyscraper

From the botxo to the skyscraper

A gentle slope ascends from Abandoibarra to the new Iberdrola tower, the work of the Argentine-American architect César Pelli, who also signs the planning plan for this area and is also the author of the Petronas towers of Kuala Lumpur. The tower of Iberdrola is the new roof of Bilbao, a triangular prism with curved faces of 165 meters and 41 floors, the fifth of Spain in height. It has a nice entrance atrium where olive trees and aromatic shrubs have been planted and its axis faces, like the prow of a ship, towards Elcano Street and Moyúa Square, from where the most important roads on the left bank of the Nervión depart. From its heliport the 360 ​​degrees of the city are covered , a botxo (hole) surrounded by mountains, which are the ones that mark the authentic skyline of Bilbao. To the east and to the south are the grids of the neighborhoods of Abando and Indautxu; to the northwest, Deusto; to the southwest, the stadium of San Mamés, with its characteristic arch that supports the main grandstand and, in front of it, a large lot where machines already work to build a new football cathedral with a capacity for 53,000 spectators. It is expected that it can host the first encounters of Athletic in the 2013-2014 season, although it will not be totally finished until 2015, when the last grandstand is built. The arch – one of the symbols of Bilbao before the arrival of the Guggenheim – will disappear and it is still unknown if it will be used for a future footbridge that links the island of Zorrozaurre with Sarriko.

The displacement of the stadium, which will be closer to the estuary, will allow the Ensanche to be extended. There will be new road accesses and the technological campus of the University of the Basque Country is already being built, one of the pillars of this new Bilbao that seeks “excellence and intelligence”.

Concrete with signature  

Concrete with signature  

  And if in Athletic there is no player that is not from Euskadi or from the Basque influence areas, Bilbao has chosen the opposite road for its urbanism and architecture. The names that sign the great projects have been sought among the most distinguished of international architecture, to the despair of local architects. Ibon Areso has it very clear: “We are in a brand society, when a child wants some shirts, wants some Adidas or some Nike. That we have a meter designed by Norman Foster brings us more congresses of dentists than if it were not. ” Thus, architects for public projects are chosen without competition and private developers “are pushed a little”. “For Abandoibarra we made a list of 30 architects from here and abroad. In the contract of sale of land specified that they had to choose between those 30 names, “says Areso.

The tower of Pelli is flanked by two separate residential buildings by Carlos Ferrater (at around 7,000 euros per square meter) with a metal structure. Next to it, following the curve of the new Euskadi square, is the Artklass, 190 luxury homes by the Luxembourger Rob Krier that have around twenty different façades, with arches, bay windows, friezes, caryatids and more than a hundred types of windows. A colorful and delirious interpretation of the classic buildings of the Ensanche. They have been very successful, although they are sold from 8,000 euros per square meter. In one of its domes, a phrase, in Basque, of the astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kleper “the impossible with effort is achieved”, is a statement of principles of this Bilbao reinvented.

Jean Nouvel has fallen from the list of glittering architects who were going to work in the city. He had to build some houses in front of the Alhóndiga that the crisis has taken ahead. “But this is 2% of the architecture that is done in Bilbao, and in all those buildings local architects have participated, so there is no loss of work, another thing is that they do not sign the projects”, assures the first deputy mayor .

Going from Plaza Euskadi to the Guggenheim, two Prizker prizes, shoulder to shoulder, display an austere and elegant architecture. The auditorium of the University of the Basque Country, by Álvaro Siza, has been accompanying Rafael Moneo’s new library of the University of Deusto for less than a year. The first, of white marble and gray tiles, and the other, of translucent pavés and rounded corners, contrast vividly with the rusty steel of the lights of the promenade, which sparkle with the sun that falls in Deusto, opposite.

This sunset, along the avenue of Abandoibarra there are many tourists, but above all the people of Bilbao enjoy it, who walk, run, play in the playgrounds, take advantage of the benches with pedals or slumber. And if the slander topic assures that there is little bonding in Bilbao, there are the couples jogging on the bridges and the grass to deny it.

After the Guggenheim, in front of the Uribitarte promenade, and at the foot of the Zubizuri footbridge, in Calatrava, the Japanese architect Arata Isozaki has erected two 82-meter-high, 23-storey glass buildings that conserve part of the façade of the Franco Deposit of Bilbao. Isabel is an architect and lives on the 19th floor of the north tower and sees no problems of privacy or air conditioning in a house practically all glass – “I have hardly turned on the heating in winter” -. It certainly helps that your house is oriented to the west. But the lamps, alas, cause annoying reflections in the glass and have had to put low lights on the floor. With theatricality, play with Japanese panels that allow you to cover or discover the landscape at the foot of the towers. “It’s contradictory, because I do not defend architecture in height – it’s clear that it’s not a fan of Pelli-, but I love living in a tower.” However, this singularity has its tolls : the access stairs, which run along the facades, must remain lit all night. A quirk of the Japanese architect to see the buildings, explain the neighbors.

Not all the transformation goes through the banks of the Nervión. In the center parks have been rehabilitated, a score of streets are pedestrian and there are plenty of terraces where the ladies maintain the healthy habit of going out to snack with their friends.

“Pedestrianization has done a lot of good for commerce,” explains Jorge Aio, manager of the merchants association of Bilbao Centro. Four years ago the tourist was someone who appeared from time to time and now they are a target. ” Javier López Oleaga, 74 years old, points out, in his charcuterie on Ledesma Street, which used to be “a street junk for which there was no room for an umbrella” and now has tables and flower beds. This trade opened in 1904 and has gone from groceries and alpargatas to selling the best delicatessen in the town, although they still roast peanuts daily, as they did a century ago.

The underground key

The underground key

Nobody wanted the metro 15 years ago, so if Bilbao is small (it does not reach 42 km 2 ) and you can walk everywhere, they said. Building it was a strategic decision. “It’s not just a comfortable transport. The village is very small (it has about 356,000 inhabitants) and a city must have a critical mass to have activities of a certain scale. The metro has given cohesion to the metropolitan area, “explains Ibon Areso.

Norman Foster became the first celebrated architect to plant work in the new Bilbao. The entrances to the suburban that the British designed, the fosteritos , mark, for now, 39 stations that connect the whole metropolitan area, from Plentzia or Santurtzi to Basauri. “A million people living in 30 different municipalities have begun to understand that they share problems and solutions. The subway helped to forge the spirit of community and two years later the Guggenheim reinforced the pride of belonging, “says engineer Alfonso Martínez Cearra, general director of Bilbao Metropolis 30, an association of public and private entities that works to generate ideas for the long term that inspire other organisms, such as Bilbao Ría 2000, in charge of developing the projects.

Almost in the center of the botxo , in the neighborhood of Indautxo, the stroller encounters one of the last creatures lit in the Biscayan capital: Alhóndiga Bilbao. The baroque Philippe Starck has intervened in an old wine warehouse with an unusual containment, and the result is prodigious. A building of 40,000 square meters (almost double the Guggenheim) in the heart of the city houses a library, media library, exhibition halls, gym, swimming pools, movie theaters, restaurants (with menus made with local products, vegetarians, coeliacs and diabetics, in the line of social inclusion that their managers defend) and a charming terrace with a type of bar that until now only existed in some hotels. The 43 columns of the atrium, all different, the work of the scenographer Lorenzo Baraldi, support three brick cubes with cultural and sports facilities. The atrium communicates with the surrounding streets, and the strollers wander as if they were in an open-air plaza. “This is life”, proudly proclaims María Ángeles Egaña, its CEO. No wonder, the building was inaugurated in May 2010 and 3,500,000 visitors have passed through it. Only the media library makes 1,000 loans a day. To this building, thought to give service to a neighborhood so far lacking libraries or public gyms, neighbors from all over Bilbao and from outside the city.

Unamuno, with the socarronería typical of this land said that “the whole world is a little bit bigger Bilbao”, and the village, although still small, has grown to Miribilla with new houses on the old iron mines. There, the Bilbao Arena, the basketball court of the Bizkaia Bilbao Basket, the work of the Spanish studio ACXT, authors of the new San Mamés, and the new Fronton Bizkaia, the largest in Euskadi, made of concrete and black slate by Javier, have been erected. Gaston And even religious architecture becomes modern, as seen in the parish of Santa María Josefa, also in Miribilla, by local architects IMB, with a bell tower that lights up at night. To the side, the degraded neighborhood of San Francisco, hopes that the trenches of the train will be buried to connect with the city, one of the great pending subjects.

Dazzle the young

Dazzle the young

Bilbao already has a beautiful stage, pride of own and envy of strangers, and now? “Regenerating urban port land is a child’s game compared to what we have ahead of us,” explains Alfonso Martínez. When changes occur in historical cycles, people have time to adapt, but when they are induced in 10 or 15 years, those who were before we can not get to understand them and we have to pass the baton “. Because of this, and because of the large corporations can not trust (Madrid is “a great vacuum cleaner” that has already taken the headquarters of BBVA or technology companies such as Panda Security), the next challenge for Bilbao is to dazzle the self-employed. Hence,

initiatives such as Eutokia, a social innovation center that connects young artists, economists, sociologists, engineers … to share knowledge and experiences and find new ways. Mikel Feijoo, member of Eutokia, explains that “the value is in the ideas” and that lost the ability to “live to make products”, there is no other “to create a city brand and give facilities to settle in it”. Get a brand … that’s the point. That is why the town opts to be the world capital of design in 2014, in dispute with Cape Town and Dublin.

Bilbao has invested a fortune in getting a friendly city. 500 million euros will cost the new accesses to the city, the burial of the train, the technological campus, San Mamés Barria, and the regeneration of the bus station, according to the deputy general of Vizcaya, José Luis Bilbao (PNV). Now, in times of crisis, the city needs to amortize the investment and be, in addition to being beautiful, an “intelligent city”.

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