But the big bang of Bilbao transformed more than how people think about museums and space and served as a stimulus for more than travel. It is only the first blip in a growing zeitgeist of design and the importance we place on the shape of our environments - both personal and communal - and what that shape says about us as people and citizens. "In the past, you'd walk in the door of a museum and see the art inside and walk out, and if you noticed the building at all it would only be because you were waiting for someone on the steps," says Gail Cornell, founder of Archetours, a New York tour operator specializing in architectural-themed vacations. "Now that building is making a big statement about everything - about the city of Bilbao and what it wants to be, a statement about the future."

Cornell began Archetours eight years ago to act upon a lifelong interest in architecture and design, and she remembers the moment the seeds for the company took root. While taking an architecture history class, she traveled to Greece. "The only group I could find was an archaeology-oriented tour," she says. "The guide, a noted classics professor, was taking us through the Parthenon, and he talked about every battle, every emperor, every contribution of Greek society, and not once did he mention how they built this gigantic temple on top of a hill." Cornell brought architecture books and read while the group walked. At one point, the professor yelled at her to "get your nose out of those books and listen to me." Back on the bus, her fellow tourists were intrigued by Cornell's books and asked to borrow them. "I realized then that people do have an interest in how things are built, why they look the way they do, and what that says about the political or social climate."