Frank Gehry's Guggenheim did more than
revitalize this Spanish city. It's spawned a whole tourism
subculture where architects are rock stars and buildings
When in Rome, they march up the steps of the Colosseum. Ditto for
China and the Great Wall. A trip to Greece would be incomplete
without a shuffle through the Parthenon. The same would be said
about India and the Taj Mahal. No one would dream of going to
Sydney without a gawk at that great seashell of an opera house.
Yes, travelers always seek out buildings and structures that serve
as icons for the city and the culture.
But six and a half years ago, a glimmering and fantastical
structure of titanium whimsy opened its doors in northern Spain and
catapulted architecture and tourism into a new and different realm.
Designed by California-based architect Frank Gehry, the Guggenheim
Museum in Bilbao attracted three times the expected number of
tourists its first year (some 1.3 million), earned accolades such
as "the great building of the 20th century" and "the travel
destination of the 21st century," and plucked a gritty industrial
city out of obscurity and into the annals of architectural
wanderlust. People began to want to travel to Bilbao just to see
the building itself - not for the art inside - and the thought of
including a structure in your travels became not a dusty, crumbly
aside, but a spanking new catalyst. Thanks to the burning desire
sparked by Bilbao, magazines like Condé Nast Traveler even
dubbed architecture "the new aphrodisiac."