BILBAO, SPAIN: GEHRY, FOSTER & CALATRAVA
BILBAO With a population of barely a million and a past as a great centre of shipping, the Basque city of Bilbao is the least glamorous of Spanish regional capitals. Its heavy industry was left behind in the 80's by the emergence of the 'tiger economies' of the East. So a 1.5 billion dollar comprehensive development was launched. The public and private sectors of the region planned major projects to transform the city and make it a centre of the service industry and a centre for "European trade, tourism and culture". These included a new airport terminal, a new subway system, a transport interchange, expansion of the port; and a number of 'grand projects' replacing the docks around the derelict river - a museum of art, a leisure and commercial area, and a congress/concert hall on the south side and a new pedestrian bridge to reach the north bank.
Santiago Calatrava is doing the airport terminal at Sandika and he has already completed the footbridge over the river. Norman Foster has designed the metro system. A transport interchange by Stirling/Wilford will replace the existing Abando railway station in the centre of town. There is no sign of life as yet of the commercial/leisure area which Cesar Pelli is designing. The congress/concert hall beyond, designed by Federico Soriano and Dolores Palacios, is under early construction.
The 'pearl in the crown' and the main attraction which has set Bilbao on the international cultural map, is the new Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry. Bilbao is surrounded by hills. The River Nervion, which eventually reaches the port on the Bay of Biscay, flows through the city in a northerly curve, separating the "new" part from the old city, the Casco Viejo. Whereas the new part has wide streets planned on a grid, with plazas and fountains, big hotels and smart shops, the old part is hilly, has narrow streets lined with 5-storey buildings. Here too are the historic monuments of the city - the cathedral, the Arriaga Theatre, museums, library, and the largest market building in Europe. A riverside park and promenade lining the full length of the north bank from the market to the Deusto University (opposite the Museum) completes the picture of this city which is gearing itself to attract new business and tourism and become a European capital.
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