Page D2.1 . 31 January 2001                     
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    Postcard from Bilbao

    ArchWeek Photo

    Walking along the river, you see the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao unfold its layers and duplicate itself as a reflection in the water. Photos by Kitty Meredith

    Dear ArchitectureWeek,

    Despite the fame of Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum, most commercial tours of Spain do not yet include a visit to Bilbao, so I spent two day there on my own.

    Bilbao, in the far north of Spain, has been a noted industrial center since the 19th century. It seems an unlikely place to build a world-class museum were it not for the fact that it's the center of the Basque country. The museum is a giant step towards attracting tourism, and is gradually accomplishing this goal.

    To fully appreciate this spectacular structure, you have to cross the river and view it from behind. Walking along the river, you see the building unfold its layers and angles and duplicate itself as a reflection in the water.

    Around front, the entrance is almost overwhelmed by a huge sculpture of a puppy dog that is covered with living pansies. The nationalist symbol of the Basques is a tree, so I wondered why a puppy was selected for this prominent position. My inquiries were met by quizzical smiles, because apparently there is no special significance in the choice of this sculpture. The puppy has become a popular tourist symbol, however, as evidenced by the key chains and other items that feature it.

    The first floor of the museum is several stories high, and contains huge "architectural" sculptures unlike any I have seen elsewhere. Most museums could not accommodate them. The upper floors contain a splendid selection of art more modest in size.

    As my plane taxied past the as yet unopened new airport terminal, I wondered whether the renewed Basque terrorism will prevent Bilbao from becoming the tourist destination it deserves to be.

    On the road in Bilbao,

    Kitty Meredith  

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