The museum was opened as part of a revitalization effort for the city of Bilbao. Almost immediately after its opening, the Guggenheim Bilbao became a popular tourist attraction, drawing visitors from around the globe. In its first three years, almost 4 million tourists visited the museum, helping to generate about €500 million in economic activity.


  • Bilbao was a steel and shipbuilding power for decades. Steel-mills and shipyards covered the banks of the river Nervión.
  • The political situation after the Civil War (late 1930’s), had already excluded Bilbao from financial aid, marginalizing the region, but it was the late-80s steel crisis that drove Bilbao into a severe economic situation.
  • Unemployment was high and people were in dire need of job-creating initiatives.


  • Transform an old fashioned engineering-based economy into a dynamic mixed economy including industry, culture, tourism and new technologies.
  • Attract well-educated tourists to the city.
  • Job creation.
  • Make Bilbao more accessible,


  • Geographical situation: close to France, and part of the Camino de Santiago.
  • High unemployment.
  • Brownfields at the banks of the Nervión River.
  • (Nice old city centre)
  • Connection with the Atlantic Ocean and the rural hinterland.


  • The Bizkaia Provincial Council and the Basque Government presented an economic regeneration model that included creating a first-class cultural facility for the city, to attract highly educated and intellectual tourists.
  • Move the heavy industry from the city centre to the periphery. Position service sector activities in the city centre.
  • Creation of business and technology parks with the improvement of industry complexes.
  • Regenerate areas near the port on the left bank of the River Nervión that had become disused and derelict.


  • Many of the former industrial areas were transformed into modern public and private spaces and were designed by some of the world’s most renowned architects and artists.
  • The museum was a key element in the urban design, situated next to one of the old port docks. It has helped to connect the left bank of the River Nervión with the rest of the city. It was Frank O. Gehry who suggested the move from its first location, a rehabilitated warehouse, to the river’s bank.
  • It was a coincidence that at that time, the Guggenheim Foundation was considering the expansion of its enormous collection as only 3% of it was on display.
  • The city infrastructure was drastically improved through footbridges, airports, the subway and tram system (Bilbao Ría 2000) and the technology park of Zamudio.
  • Also the Barakaldo area, another municipality in the Bilbao metro area and one of the most affected areas in the crisis underwent enormous urban and environmental regeneration, allowing the city of Bilbao to renew its relationship with the river.


  • Bilbao was establish as a cultural destination on the worldmap.
  • More than a million visitors a year pass through the museum to view the exhibitions.
  • Lots of cities have tried to copy the Bilbao Effect, however, very few museums or galleries have succeeded in getting so many visitors.
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Project info




1991 - 1997


Urban renewal plan led by an iconic cultural building.


Bilbao, Spain


Bilbao changed his industrial past turning into a turistic and cultural city attracting people from all the globe.




Local Government, Regional Government and Guggenheim Foundation.

Gehry’s Guggenheim

Titanium boat

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