‘The Bilbao Effect’ is a term coined by Jonathan Meades and used by economists to refer to the reverberations following the building of the Guggenheim Foundation Bilbao in 1997. A once thriving maritime industrial city found itself in huge economic decline with soaring levels of unemployment. The unlikely construction of the Guggenheim transformed Bilbao into a thriving metropolis. The erection of a single building created job opportunities, helped restaurants, shops, hotels and paid a large amount of tax to the Spanish government. A huge amount of tourism was generated, along with vast amounts of civic pride and general morale as it put Bilbao on the map internationally. However, it has been argued that poverty and unemployment has not been addressed and resolved but rather pushed out of the city centre.
Frank Gehry, the architect who designed the titanium cladded architectural icon, is illustrious for creating post-modern spectacular designs. This concept has been dubbed ‘Starchitecture’, a mixture of the terms star and architecture, as the celebrity surrounding these buildings and architectural names is paramount. Guy Debord, a French Marxist theorist, was damning of the idea of architecture as a brand in 1967, stating ‘spectacle is capital to such a degree of accumulation that it becomes an image’, while other, more capitalist minded cultural critics, have congratulated the popularity of such buildings for their branded direction in a secular society. It is understandable that to receive recognition in the contemporary commercial market, one has to make an impact. However, through the use of attention seeking architectural tropes, the museum becomes a place of monumentality, only concerned with the exterior extravaganza rather than a cohesive academic, artistic centre. The disconnect between interior and exterior, and the often dishonest exterior skin designed for spectacle, creates a lot of hostility in the discourse surrounding modern and post-modern architecture.
This discussion is double-edged, as it is understandable why ‘The Bilbao Effect’ has come into fruition in a world fuelled by commercial benefit. Large institutions, such as the Guggenheim, need to engage with the symbol and turn their brand into a condensed and easily recognisable image to be successful. In doing so, commerciality is once again undermining the academic world of art and architecture. The ‘museum’ becomes a network of gazes, spectacle and voyeurism.
 Jonathan Meades, The Spectator, 2017. https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/the-bilbao-effect/
 Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, 1967.