Bilbao inaugurates new architectural landmark

18th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Bilbao, which transformed itself over a decade ago with the opening of a striking branch of the Guggenheim museum, on Tuesday inaugurated an imposing new cultural centre by French designer Philippe Starck.

The Alhondiga Bilbao includes a library, swimming pool, exhibition hall, fitness centre, restaurants and movie theatres spread over 43,000 square metres (462,680 square feet) on the site of a converted wine warehouse.

It took eight years to build for a cost of 75 million euros (92.5 million dollars).

Bilbao mayor Inaki Azkuna said the city aimed to give the city a new "social and cultural motor that is unique in the world."

The opening of the futuristic-looking building designed by acclaimed US architect Frank Gehry that houses the Bilbao's museum Guggenheim in October 1997 helped transform the Basque city from a declining industrial centre to a cultural capital that draws thousands of visitors.

Charmless business hotels and musty pensions were replaced by trendy hotels over the following years to meet demand for the new type of visitor who was coming to the city.

Since then other cities have sought to replicate this so-called "Guggenheim effect" by building eye-catching architectural landmarks to mixed results.

Earlier on Tuesday Singapore awarded Biblao authorities a new urban excellence prize for transforming the largest city in Spain's Basque Country from an "obsolete and dilapidated" industrial town into a vibrant metropolis.

Named after Singapore's founding father, the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize is a biennial award presented for the first time this year and comprises 300,000 Singapore dollars (200,000 US), a gold medallion and certificate.

Bilbao City Hall beat 77 other nominees for the prize.

© 2010 AFP

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