Bilbao’s Epitaph

Frank Gehry's Performance Pavillion at Millenium Park

Frank Gehry's Performing Arts Pavillion at Millenium Park

We knew it was coming. Today New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff officially declared the end to an epoch of iconic cultural architecture in America. I suppose this is also the end of the Bilbao Effect. His article surveys history of American cultural identity as expressed through architecture beginning with the City Beautiful Movement in the late 19th Century. I found this statement rather interesting: “The problem with freedom, after all, is that it allows for horrifying imaginative failures as well as works of stunning genius.” This reminded me of a quote from Goethe ” There is nothing worst than an active imagination, a lot of money and no taste”. It makes you wonder how many bad ideas we may have been saved from. What will all of this mean for the next generation of museum building? What forms will museums of the new epoch take in response to this new found modesty? Perhaps what is happening inside the museum will finally become as important than what is happening on the outside.

Tim Ventimiglia

5 responses to “Bilbao’s Epitaph

  1. Idiosyncrasies in people are what can be appreciated most about human beings. I am all for an active imagination, but a question of taste is always taken into consideration when looking at objects. As designers, I imagine that we all get especially nit-picky at times. I saw Hair on Broadway a few weekends ago, and I started thinking about trends. The story, for those of you who may not know, takes place in the 1960s and develops around a bunch of radical teenagers against the war and all for free love. The “costumes” are almost wearable almost fifty years later. Of course, it may not have been the trend in 1984, but those peasant tops and bell-bottoms came back around a few years ago and I know I had some hanging in my closet. To bring this thought back to the museum, and the future of the museum, is it safe to assume that these establishments follow trends like other cultural aspects of our lives? As we are weened off the Bilbao Effect, will older traditions re-emerge to become the new trend?

  2. I also read Ouroussoff’s article on Sunday, and like many of his articles, disagreed with a number of his points. As I write this post from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s library I am surrounded by thousands of people who are thoroughly enjoying their experience at the Met, and most likely would frequent and enjoy experiences at other museums throughout the world. The public and public interests can easily be compared to a roaring river – and right now it cannot be denied that museums are popular and attending exhibitions is the thing to do. Ouroussoff’s belief that an era is over is patently false – we may be at a chapter break, but we are certainly not at the last page. I agree there are many changes – the American Museum of Natural History has a mobile museum – a large truck that travels to schools – but these changes don’t signify an end, rather an evolution. Museum are changing and we only hope the rate of change is comparable to society’s changes. Ouroussoff confuses the interplay between museums, urban planning, and architects and should clarify each group’s intent and relationship to the other.

  3. museumdesignlab

    I dont think Nicolai was proclaiming a decline in interest in museums, just a declining interest in spectaular architecture. Though I am an architect and know (and have even worked with) many of the people who’s great work he is citing, I do welcome this shift. I have seen far too many museums in the last 10 years lose focus in the glare of iconic architecture, at the expense of their basic mission. Think of it as an investment. If you spend 90% of your project budget on architecture and 10% on the experiences inside the museum then something is wrong. Many museums chose this path. I am hoping a more responsible architecture that is informed from the inside out will now emerge.

  4. this discussion reminds me of some advice from some of my previous architecture professors. Not everybody can be a rockstar and not every building can be iconic. Imagine a world where every building you encountered was the product of an “active imagination”… i think it would be un-nerving. I don’t think “active imaginations” are bad and I do actually think that building types like museums are good places to have iconic architecture…but if every museum is iconic…then doesn’t this iconic nature lose a bit of its luster?It seems inevitable that people would realize that the Bilboa Effect can’t happen for everyone.

  5. I think a fundamental idea in America is that everyone can be a rockstar. However, your pointing to a potential saturation of ‘the iconic’ is well taken. Saturation and how to respond to it has been on the mind of many artists, architects, musicians, etc. The inevitable encounter with saturation is the common fate of all rock stars. Let’s talk about a few. What happened to Rod Stewart, Sting, Bono, Curt Cobaine, Michael Jackson? Well…I guess the first one is miraculously still on tour, the second is hiding out in South America, the third gone into politics, the rest are dead. I guess you could say that it is hard to remain a rockstar indefinitely.

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