Cultural projects are drivers of urban regeneration

Bilbao, in Spain’s Basque Country, is now an icon of culture-led urban regeneration, with the Guggenheim Museum. One of the most admired works of contemporary architecture, the building has been hailed as a “signal moment in the architectural culture”, because it represents “one of those rare moments when critics, academics, and the public were all completely united about something”, according to architectural critic Paul Goldberger.

The museum was the building most frequently named as one of the most important works completed since 1980 in the 2010 World Architecture Survey among architecture experts 

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. The regional council estimated that the money visitors spent on hotels, restaurants, shops and transport allowed it to collect €100 million in taxes, which more than paid for the building cost. In a region blighted by high unemployment in the 1990s (around 25%), the US$700m revitalization plan enhanced the city’s attractiveness, underpinned 4,400 existing jobs in the city, and created more than 1,000 full-time jobs.