Cornell likes to call architects the new rock stars and references the trend of architects lending their likenesses to ads and earning feature treatment in glossy magazines. (Oh. And the groupies.) "It's almost as if 25 years ago it was archaeology, and then 15 years ago adventure travel took off, and now this is the age of architecture and design," Cornell says.

For Tom Mercer, editor for the Let's Go travel guides, "the Bilbao Effect" means more than the urge to travel to see new architecture. "I like to look at it from the other side - What are destinations doing to appeal to tourists, and I think that it means that there is a higher level of consciousness among various cities and destinations that by showcasing the architecture they have, or by undertaking interesting building projects, they can garner revenue from their own residents and from tourists," he says.

Mercer points to several examples of this in the United States: Los Angeles hopes that the Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall will help shift the city from a collection of suburbs to one with a vibrant downtown; Japanese architect Tadao Ando's Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth creates a triple-threat of interest to the city's downtown along with Louis Kahn's Kimbell Art Museum and Philip Johnson's Amon Carter Museum; and Santiago Calatrava's 142,050-square-foot addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum, which Mercer believes will garner weekend visitors from places like Chicago and beyond.

"I think people are very interested in what cities do with their space and how cultures define themselves through architecture," Mercer says. "I also think people are recognizing that architecture doesn't have to be old to be vital."