Frank O. Gehry & Associates, Santa Monica
Lam Partners Inc., Cambridge/MA
Thomas Mayer, Neuss
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Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum juts and twists its way up from the surrounding industrial wastelands, highways and dockyards. With this building, Frank O. Gehry proved just how forcibly architecture can thrust a city into the focus of the world's public. He created a massive landmark for Bilbao that is impossible to miss and as easily remembered as the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
The building, with its expressive forms, seems to continually change its appearance: wherever one stands it looks different, and every change in lighting conditions is reflected on the shimmering titanium skin.
The 50 metre high atrium is the centre of the building. It seems to concentrate the material and shape of the entire building: stone, glass, titanium, curves, straight lines, opaque and transparent surfaces all come together for a sensational interplay of aesthetics. From the atrium various bridges, lifts and staircases towers provide access to the galleries as well as the administration rooms and anterooms.
Founded as a dependency of the New Yorker Guggenheim Museum, the building in Bilbao is financed above all from the gallery's ample funds. The Basque Government, however, has also made a purchase fund available. Jim Dines, three times 'Red Venus', was amongst the first sponsors of the museum.
The selection of rooms in the museum ranges from 'classical' galleries to less conventional quarters that are predestined for artworks conceived specifically for the location. The gigantic gallery, 130 metres long by 30 metres wide and free of support columns, offers an unusually capacious space for monumental works.
An early design sketch from Frank O. Gehry adorns a logo, which is also the screen above the bar in the museum café. A glimpse into Gehry's studio in Santa Monica (below) clearly demonstrates how great a role models play in the design process. The forms found in the model were then transferred into CAD programs from the aeronautical industry, where they were further processed into ready-to-use construction drawings.
After sunset, warm light flows out of the glased slits and breakthroughs in the outer-skin of the Guggenheim Museum, and the reflection on the scaly surface emphasises the descriptive form of the building. In the dark, the new landmark of the Basque metropolis gives the impression of a living organism even more than by day.
To install the lighting in the extremely dimensioned rooms of the museum, suspended lighting bridges known as catwalks are used. These are a technical feature that clearly stands out within the architecture. The high ceilings required particularly powerful tools for the accent lighting. Many features of the spotlights designed specially for this project - such as the snoot with filter cassette or the separate control gear - also flowed into the development of the Stella spotlight range. The choice of lamp types is has been influenced by the American lighting culture: QR111 low-voltage halogen lamps plus PAR38 and PAR56 reflector lamps are used.
Incisions cut into the roof shell allow daylight to pierce into many rooms of the museum at the Zenith. Sufficient so that the visitor does not lose contact with the outdoor lighting conditions of the time of day and year - but insufficient for appropriately illuminating the art works. In most cases, additional artificial light is necessary.
Others involved in the project:
Site management: IDOM, Bilbao
Design of supporting structure: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Chicago
Area: approx. 24,000 m², of which 11,000 m² exhibition area in 19 galleries.
Completion: Autumn, 1997
Abandoibarra Et. 2
Info.-line (+34) 94 435 90 80,
Further, current information on the museum's website at:
The Guide section provides thorough information on everything from the physical bases of lighting to suggested solutions for different lighting situations. The interactive knowledge modules vividly illustrate lighting solutions that are possible with this product range.