Guggenheim Museum Bilbao: An Architectural Feat

23 August 2015
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Guggenheim Bilboa Museum

The randomness of the curves are designed to catch the light” Frank Gehry

As one of the most famous buildings of the 20th century, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is deserving of significant recognition. Not only for its contemporary architecture and curvilinear shape, but also for the economic boost it created for the municipality.

Like any large undertaking, the project came with its fair share of obstacles and stumbling blocks – which were fortuitously overcome with excellent planning and project management.

The Vision

The project of building the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao was a strategic component of the Revitalization Plan for the city of Bilbao, in a region where the economic support had become outdated. The museum was a monumental construction project among others in the revitalization plan, such as the new Bilbao Metro railway, a new terminal for the airport, a railway station, a 25,000 m2 music hall and the “Zubizuri” bridge (Basque for white bridge).

The daring and innovative design of the museum alone required an investment of over 10,000 million Pesetas ($95.24 million USD).

The Obstacles

The IDOM team (an Engineering, Architecture and Consulting firm) along with a team representing the Design Architect Frank O. Gehry and Associates (FAG/O) struggled to meet the Consorcio Museo Guggenheim’s budget. In order to address this challenge, the following points were agreed upon:

  • The total footprint would be reduced by 20%
  • Lower cost materials would be used in certain cases
  • Negotiations would be had to reduce the price of the building’s primary finish materials
  • The City of Bilbao would waive the cost of permits
  • The cost of training personnel would not be included in the estimate
  • The team would be given an additional 333 M Pesetas for furniture and equipment costs
  • These savings would bring the total cost estimate down to 14,028 M Pesetas – which was approved by the client on January 30, 1993.

The project was received by certain cultural and political groups with a high degree of skepticism, not to mention it was introduced on the cusp of the Fall 1994 Basque government elections. Naturally, the project’s directors insisted that the museum be well under construction before the elections, to prevent any delay or halt on the project. At this stage, only 30 out of at least 1,000 necessary detailed drawings had been completed – this along with the budget constraints proved to make this the most complex architectural project in IDOM’s history.

The Execution

A few key procedures were established by IDOM, FOG/A and CMG to ensure the success of this ambitious project.

1. Overlapping design and construction phases:

Although IDOM anticipated the project would take 7 years to reach completion, the deadline had to be within 5 years. So the decision was made to significantly overlap design development and construction phases.

2. Establishing a real time cost control model:

IDOM established a process where every six weeks, a detailed cost estimate would be prepared, which would then be compared with the target cost – allowing them to frequently evaluate their decisions and make new proposals to avoid exceeding target costs. The target cost would also be recalculated three times during the design phase, for the purpose of accuracy.

3. Dividing the project in construction “packages”:

The decision was made to divide the construction between several contractors, with each area being assigned to a key professional from IDOM who was responsible for its cost and quality control.

The “packages” were:

  • Demolition
  • Foundation
  • Structure
  • Exterior
  • Interior and Installation
  • Urban Infrastructure
  • Furniture, fixtures and equipment

The Result

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao was making headlines before it even opened its doors to the public in October of 1997.

Praised as an architectural feat, the masterpiece of contemporary architecture has drawn in well over ten million visitors since its opening and continues to be an inspiration for new builds around the world.

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