The Guggenheim Museum of Contemporary Art, Bilbao, Spain

In 1997 a strange thing happened to the Basque city of Bilbao. Amid the industrial gloom of its docks, an apparition was reported. The man behind the apparition was Frank Gehry, a Canadian with a unique eye for architecture.

The apparition is known colloquially as The Goog and it sits on the harbour-side like a melted collision between the Sydney Opera House and the Thames Barrier. A marriage of glacial cubes and tumbling angles, the Guggenheim appears to the eye like a mathematics puzzle wrapped in silver paper.

Once you catch a glimpse of the building, it tags along as you wander the streets of Bilbao. Just when you think you’ve shaken it off by turning a corner it suddenly confronts you again, peering out from behind a bank or lounging patiently at the end of a boulevard.

Inside, the permanent collection has been carefully curated to accommodate an eclectic mix from Chinese artefacts to popular abstract. Directly across from the Guggenheim is the provincial arts museum, standing subdued in the shadow of its smart new neighbour, like a cynical older relative catering for an earlier generation.

Bilbao has welcomed this addition to the skyline with genuine enthusiasm and the ensuing publicity has had positive effects in raising the cultural and touristic appeal of the city. Although the filthy river washing through the city makes the Thames look like bottled Evian, the knock-on regeneration is obvious as gloomy crane-squatted docklands are redesigned with bars and cafes.

The Los Angeles Concert Hall is the latest in a string of Guggenheim inspired buildings from Gehry, but Bilbao was the catalyst. An exceptional backdrop to a gritty industrial port with more refined aspirations.

Guggenheim Bilbao Official Website

The Brown Wedge