Fishing in Bilbao

By Anastasia Mills Healy

Frank Gehry likes fish. Considered by many as the leading architect of our time, Gehry turned to fish for inspiration when his team started looking to Greek classicism. Go back further, he said, to the beginning of life in the murk.

Gehry created enormous fish sculptures in Barcelona, Minneapolis, and Kobe, and ichthyic-shaped items appear in his other endeavors such as a jewelry line for Tiffany & Co.

As for Gehry’s iconic building for the Guggenheim in Bilbao, creatures more noticeable here than fish are Jeff Koons’ 40-foot Puppy and Louis Bourgeois’ 33-foot Maman spider.  But the shimmer of 30,000 undulating sheets of titanium echo shiny scales and the position of the museum on the river that snakes through this industrial city reinforces the association.


This stunning museum is the focal point of the architectural revolution that won the city a world prize for urban development, but form lovers also seek out “Zubuzuri,” Santiago Calatrava’s white tied  arch footbridge; the “fosteritos”–  curved glass entrances – that mark Metro stations designed by Sir Norman Foster; and the triangular prism Iberdrola skyscraper recently completed by Cesar Pelli.

No one in his right mind would go fishing in Bilbao’s rust-colored Nervion River. However, the Basque region is celebrated for its cuisine, including the ubiquitous salt cod. So as you savor a dish of bacalao a la Vizcaina, ponder how a lowly 300 million-year-old creature resuscitated a bleak industrial city in northern Spain, transforming it into a must-see destination for art and design aficionados from around the world.

Guggenheim Bilbao


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