Work Already Done By Theorists Cultural Studies Essay

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Based on this we shall examine on what basis the Bilbao Museum was build and the huge impact it had on iconic architecture. Consequently, we will compare it with the strategy Abu Dhabi city used to build its iconic status-including the selection of Jean Nouvelle, a starchitect, the copy of a new Louvre and how they estimate this will establish their city as an iconic symbol. Special focus will be provided on the issue of the starchitects and whether it takes a famous surname to make an iconic building, in a separate chapter. Finally conclusions will be drawn.

KEYWORDS: Bilbao, iconic, Louvre, Abu Dhabi, Guggenheim, regeneration


Object of study

Can a city be changed through architecture? According to Campbell (2009) yes, since "Gehry's movement establishes the foundations of a change whereby the world was ready to embark upon an entirely new and different approach to social and cultural structural design… this factor in and of itself as well as the myriad other visitors who could appreciate the museum's magnitude from a layperson perspective, not only boosted Bilbao economically but also socially, architecturally and structurally as well" .

As seen in the above text, Gehry's work is considered by many to be the founder of iconic building (or re-founder in nowadays). This specific context became my initiative to research more, because as explained by Sudjic (2005), "every ambitious city wants an architect to do for them what they think Utzon's opera House did for Sydney and Frank Gehry and the Guggenheim did for Bilbao".

It seems so apparent that in our days the above statement applies more than ever before. Undouptly, Ictinus and Kallikratis had their share on selling iconic design, but the global effect of iconic architecture is only now beginning to shine. The same applies for the second case study of this paper, that for Jean Nouvel's work in Louvre Abu Dhabi. While Nouvel is not a new architect and his work is well known and established, it seems that it was the Bilbao effect that has led many cities to research which starchitect could enrich and renovate them, as Abu Dhabi did in his case. Based on this, this essay shall examine on what basis the Bilbao established its iconic status and compare it with the attempt by Abu Dhabi's government to create a museum district the city. Secondly the huge impact Bilbao had upon iconic architecture and on that basis this paper shall compare Abu Dhabi's choice to build its iconic status, its strategies that led them to select Jean Nouvel's and others work and how they estimate such choices will establish their city as an iconic symbol. To conclude, I shall discuss whether iconic architecture has the power to socially, economically, architecturally and structurally change cities through regeneration.

On that spirit, another interesting aspect of this research is the preference shown in modern art buildings and mainly museums, to promote city regeneration. In addition, one interesting level is be to explore whether the work of an unknown architect can instill city regeneration, by using short examples of historic buildings that were turned into iconic buildings, for example the Parthenon, Taj Mahal etc.

Work already done by theorists / Literature review

"The traditional mission of a museum is essentially cultural. This does not apply for all museums, however. There are some minority, although universally famous museums, such as the Tate Liverpool, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, the Tate Modern London or the new forthcoming Louvre-Lens (France), Pompidou-Metz (France), Guggenheim Hermitage (Lithuania) and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), whose principal aim is the reactivation (and/or diversification) of the economy of their cities" (Plaza and Haarich, 2009). Therefore, there are numerous ways to examine the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum effect (Ch.3.1). Firstly, a look on Gehry's work (ch.2.1), and then a comparison with the work done by Jean Nouvelle at Abu Dhabi. More importantly to gain insight to what constitutes the iconic building: is it the architect, the design or its uniqueness (Ch.4)? One would wonder whether the replication of a similar museum in another city would provide the city the same reactivation (ch.5). Using Louvre Abu Dhabi (ch.3.2.) as an example, this paper will try to answer this question. "Central to this approach was the use of modern art museums as magnets for tourism and inward investment" (Baniotopoulou, 2009), which seems to be the lure before Abu Dhabi's actions. The impact of Gehry's museum had a phenomenal success in the history of architecture, which almost marked its own era and inevitably altered the architectural direction the world took subsequent to 1997 (Campbell, 2009). This is called by many theorists, the Bilbao effect….. it became therefore essential to examine if did a project-led regeneration program preceded its success or is it a building that can stand everywhere and shine on its own? Was it a conscious decision to select Gehry or a starchitect and build an iconic building? My guess is that it was found essential by the city authorities to employ well-known architects in order to gain positive publicity, and I will try to display that through chapter 4.

Finally, what I find to be the most interesting thing in literature is the notion of how to redefine a city. As explained in the methodology section, a short referral of such cities will be listed while the main focus will be the Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao and Abu Dhabi's Louvre. In addition, whether this can be done by just any architect or whether it takes a starchitect? Iconic architecture is a channel between city stagnation and regeneration and Bilbao provides further illustration of the socially, politically, structurally and economically regenerating power this particular type of building renders. In comparison we shall see whether this will apply to research.


According to Border and Ruedi (2006), "an architectural dissertation should rely on research that is a) original and b) also acknowledges the work of other people".

Through the use of literature review, I intend to proceed to a short examination of Gehry's work style, mostly what is related to aftermath of Bilbao museum design as well as some short reference to its deconstructivism / modernism style. Another method of research would be to use the modernism theories of the 20th century, and their relation to most iconic buildings. Even through this short comparison will be attempted in a paragraph to examine whether modernity is essential to consist an iconic building and compare it to other iconic architecture, however, this essay cannot expand to examine all aspects of modern architecture; therefore it will be limited to a short reference on this matter.

Then, the same pattern of literature review examination will be provided for New Louvre. Furthermore, critic will be provided as to making an iconic building and whether this is in itself enough to revive a city, as Cambell (2009) and others claim. Some claim that this is not enough, while others judge the effect of copying building styles everywhere in the world, as Abu Dhabi did. This exploration will be provided from journals, books and internet sources. In addition, I would like, should the circumstances allow it, to visit on spot the museum and city of Bilbao as well as the city of Abu Dhabi, in order to feel its aura and get a personal idea of the urban design effect. Time limitations have forced me to end my aspiration to interview some Cypriot architects to see their reflections on the iconic building in general, as it would help me support my arguments better.

Limitations: While it will be interesting to see whether the museum has a success story in all levels of the city life (like social reflects etc), or whether the success story remains at the representational level (Badesku, 2008), the tools such an analysis will require, remain out of the scope of this essay.


Ch. 2.1.Gehry's work

On the process of examining the iconic status of Bilbao and its importance on the further history of architecture in the 21st century, it is indispensable to examine some of Gehry's work characteristics and how they consist the making of iconic buildings.

Frank Owen Gehry, is a Canadian American Pritzker Prize-winning architect based in Los Angeles. His buildings everywhere, including his private residence, have become tourist attractions. His works are cited as being among the most important works of contemporary architecture in the 2010 World Architecture Survey, which led Vanity Fair to label him as "the most important architect of our age". [1] 

Impressive architecture and renowned architects have become essential elements of the postmodern city (Olds 2001; Gospodini 2002; McNeill 2002a 2005; Evans 2003; Sklair 2005 2006). Architecture has acquired a life of its own, and the development of standard tall buildings, such as simple rectangular boxes, is no longer enough. Architecture exemplifies the globalization of the urban form: 'it is certainly the search for architectural icons that drives the process in globalizing cities' (Sklair 2005, 498). In a world of abundant attractions, the best architectural designs are considered prerequisite for the production of instantly recognizable distinctiveness, since 'projecting the "image of being global" is as important as "being global" in the competitive global economy' (Marshall 2003). This is exactly what Gehry's work has come to establish. As images of an isolated building now become landmarks and iconic spaces in a global capital. [2] His buildings establish and define a city: his style becomes unique and it distinguishes from all other contemporary architects.

Much of Gehry's work falls within the style of Deconstructivism, which is often referred to as post-structuralist in nature for its ability to go beyond current modalities of structural definition. In architecture, its application tends to depart from modernism in its inherent criticism of culturally inherited givens such as societal goals and functional necessity. Because of this, unlike early modernist structures. Gehry's own Santa Monica residence is a commonly cited example of deconstructivist architecture, as it was so drastically divorced from its original context, and in such a manner as to subvert its original spatial intention.

It is essential to say that Gehry is very much inspired by fish. Not only do they appear in his buildings, he created a line of jewelry, household items, and sculptures based on this motif. [3] This motif is something that dominates the Bilbao museum, as we shall examine in chapter 3.1.

Space: space has an exceptional role in Gehry's work and in iconic architecture in general: "There is an immediate feeling of vastness that encourages people to experience these spaces as an extension of the natural surroundings enveloping it"……

Ch.2.2 Jean Nouvel

The French Architect Jean Nouvel was born in 12 August 1945. He studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and was a founding member of Mars 1976 and Syndicat de l'Architecture. His career has been very succesfull, being one of the starchitects of our era and has won many prizes, including the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (awarded for the Institut du Monde Arabe which Nouvel designed), the Wolf Prize in Arts in 2005. Nouvel has also won the same price as Gehry: the Pritzker Prize in 2008.

When delivering its Pritzker prize, the jury commented that:

"Of the many phrases that might be used to describe the career of architect Jean Nouvel, foremost are those that emphasize his courageous pursuit of new ideas and his challenge of accepted norms in order to stretch the boundaries of the field. [...] The jury acknowledged the 'persistence, imagination, exuberance, and, above all, an insatiable urge for creative experimentation' as qualities abundant in Nouvel's work." (Hyatt foundation)

A number of museums and architectural centers have presented retrospectives of his work (Wikipedia)

…. This chapter is not yet finished


Ch.3.1 Bilbao Guggenheim Museum

The time had come for such grandiose, iconic structures to become conduits to city regeneration.

According to Campbell, Bilbao is a clearly defined epoch in the history of architecture.

Why the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao elicited such an overwhelming response to its uniqueness that sparked an international response and brought acclaim to what was otherwise an indistinct Spanish Community, clearly illustrating "how iconic architecture has the power to socially, economically, architecturally and structurally change cities through regeneration?"

Architectural icons are generally anointed by the public, and sometimes a long time after they are built. So why do developers think that they can create instant icons? Frank Gehry and the Bilbao Guggenheim, that's why. Using innovative computer technology, Gehry designed and built a structure of striking originality and formal inventiveness. The swirling shapes covered in highly reflective titanium were not only astonishingly original, they were like no other building that people had ever seen [4] 

Bilbao Museum further established iconic architecture as a philosophy rather than a mere task of construction (Campbell, 2009).

…. This chapter is not yet finished

3.2. New Louvre Abu Dhabi

Through an intergovernmental agreement signed on March 6, 2007, France and the United Arab Emirates decided to create a universal museum, bearing the name Louvre Abu Dhabi, with an opening slated for 2014. This unprecedented venture lays the foundations for a new type of cultural collaboration between two sovereign nations, and fulfills mutual needs and aspirations.

In the image of the architectural project by Jean Nouvel who invents a museum-city, a city-world through a variation on the forms of Arab architecture, the universalism of the Louvre Abu Dhabi must give rise to a genuine cultural mix. In this respect, according to its founders, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will demonstrate its universality first and foremost by its collections. The geographical, historical and cultural reality of Abu Dhabi is that of a bridge between the East and West, understood in their broadest sense, to which the United Arab Emirates's request to France has given an added dimension with strong symbolism. Because the history of the Louvre Abu Dhabi is just starting to be written, it is easier for us to unlock the potential of this tactic. In this, we are brought back to the original founding of the Louvre, when its universal vocation, undertaken to the scale authorized by the knowledge of the time, was accomplished. This desire for universality extended to other museums for example Jean Nouvelle's Musée du Quai Branly. The Louvre thus extends an invitation, still today, to discover the history of humanity through its collection of artworks, to gain an understanding of the world today by discovering and observing the creation of yesterday.

the New Louvre, Abu Dhabi

…. This chapter is not yet finished


Making visually aesthetic cities is not novel, nor is the connection between political leaders and monumental architecture (Kostof 1991). Still, during the past couple of decades, urban design has gained importance in the planning agenda of many cities. The shift of approach from urban managerialism to urban entrepreneurialism (Harvey 1989) has made city governments more responsive to business needs and more aware of intensifying competition between cities. They have to come to recognize that spectacular and innovative architecture designed by star architects may positively contribute to the exposure of their cities. Such is the case in declining industrial cities such as Bilbao or cities which have aimed to improve their global standing such as Sydney and Kuala Lumpur. Designed by the American architect Frank Gehry, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao has become a cultural icon, re-imaging the entire city and creating tourism (Evans 2003; Plaza 2000). Petronas Towers were meant to put Kuala Lumpur on the world map and make it a world city (Morshidi 1997 2001; Bunnell 1999). In many cases entrepreneurial and long-serving mayors have played a key role in shaping cities: Pasqual Maragall in Barcelona, Francesco Rutelli in Rome and Frank Sartor in Sydney are a few examples (McNeill 2001 2003; Punter 2005). [5] 

One interesting opinion on the production of architectural iconicity and its relationship to contemporary capitalist globalization, is that of Leslie Sklair. While Sklair notes that iconicity can take a range of forms, he is particularly concerned to understand the iconicity ascribed to buildings or spaces (or indeed architects) on the basis of their uniqueness or difference. For Sklair, this form of contemporary iconic architecture is now corporate to an extent that is historically unprecedented.

According to McNeil, cities have become in the need of applying corporate methodology in order to reinvent themselves financially. "with cities riven by de-industrialization, and governments unwilling or unable to raise taxes to bail them out, urban managers such as mayors, chief executives or head planners, have come to treat the city as corporation" . It does however become apparent, that in the case of Abu Dhabi, money or taxes was not an issue; even though, as mentioned above, the focus was to remove from the hydrocarbonate funded economy, to an economy oriented to the future sans oil. Mostly, Abu Dhabi does not just want to be rich, it needs to instilled and promote its trademark to the world. And what better diachronic medium than architecture to do so? A medium that will last in centuries to come, and maintain an iconic status for the country.

In the last decade, scholars and policymakers have paid greater attention to the role of famous designers' pieces of architecture not only in regenerating urban areas but also in defining a positive and communicative image in the global economic competition among cities. Taking into account the general background of and socio-economic changes in Western countries, this rationale assumes that the use of a well-known architect's name can give a competitive advantage to a city in many ways. Following this legitimizing narrative, cities now strive for signature architecture, sometimes with little regard to their urban context, their size and role in the global market, the democratic decision making process and the urban effects. The example of Nicosia, with the direct assignment of a regeneration project directly to Zaha Hadid is relevant. With little or no respect (according to negative critics) to the local environment, no consideration to the use of urban public space in Cyprus, a starchitect was selected and paid to design a "successful iconic space". In the same way, Abu Dhabi has hired most of the starchitects in order to create a new "hall of fame" : the so called cultural district contains in a small neighborhood the names of Kalatrava, Gehry, Hadid and Nouvel. As McNeil has put it "Buying Culture; By Luring Western Institutions Like the Louvre and Yale, Abu Dhabi Aims to Become a Global Arts Center".…. This chapter is not yet finished


Ch.5.1. Historic examples of city regenerations

Through historic references to iconic buildings, e.g Athens 5th century BC, Taj Mahal, New Yorks twin towers, we shall see the connection between iconic buildings and city regeneration.

Ch. 5.2. Bilbao's regeneration

Bilbao is a municipality and city in Northen Spain, the capital of the province of Biscay in the autonomous community of the Basque Country. With a population of 353,187 as of 2010, it is the largest city of its autonomous community and the tenth largest in Spain. Bilbao's history begins in the 14th century but throughout the nineteenth century and beginnings of the twentieth, Bilbao experienced heavy industrialization that made it the center of the second industrialized region of Spain, behind Barcelona. This was joined by an extraordinary population explosion. However, in the 1980s, several factors such as terrorism, labor demands, and the arrival of cheap labor force from the abroad, led to a devastating industrial crisis. [6] 

Therefore Bilbao, unlike Abu Dhabi, was obliged to reconsider its economic sources. Since approximately 1995, there has been a process of deindustrialization, with focus to the promotion of the services sector. This created the need of investment in infrastructure and urban renewal, that started with the symbolic opening of the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum (the so-called Guggenheim effect), and continued with the infrastructure investments of Euskalduna Conference Centre and Concert Hall, Calatrava's Zubizuri, the metro network by Norman Foster, and the Zorrozaurre development plan.

Foreign visitors enjoy the surroundings of the Guggenheim Museum, a driving tour of the new Bilbao has allowed a dramatic increase in the sector in recent years. :: MAIL

Nowadays, Bilbao is a vigorous service city that is experiencing an ongoing social, economic, and aesthetic revitalization process.

The Bilbao effect has added hugely to the tourism of the city. As seen bellow, published by The 'Bilbao effect' spans the territory and this is also reflected in the financial accounts. The tourism sector "of great strategic value," according to the mayor, gives the Biscayan GDP over 300 million euros each year,


400€ aprrox. Spend per foreign tourists that visits Bilbao,

300 million euros gross brings tourism activity to the domestic product.

5.4 % the increase of visitors that Bilbao has won last year. In 2009, were 615.500.

The bilbao effect has raised bilbaos tourism

Ch.5.3. Abu Dhabi regeneration

Abu Dhabi is the capital and the second largest city of the United Arab Emirates in terms of population and the largest of the seven member emirates of the United Arab Emirates. Abu Dhabi lies on a T-shaped island jutting into the Persian Gulf from the central western coast. The city proper had a population of 621,000 in 2012 (Wikipedia). Dhabi has grown to be a cosmopolitan metropolis. Its rapid development and urbanisation, coupled with the relatively high average income of its population, has transformed Abu Dhabi to a larger and advanced metropolis.

As well as Bilbao, UAE has as well made a shift for its main economy, the hydrocarbon that is its main resources of income; while the external factors did not forced them like Bilbao, a decision was made to limit their reliance on one financial sector only. This trend is reflected in Abu Dhabi with substantial new investment in industry, real estate, tourism and retail. As Abu Dhabi is the largest oil producer of the UAE, it has reaped the most benefits from this trend. It has taken on an active diversification and liberalization programme to reduce the UAE's reliance on the hydrocarbon sector. The city was planned in the 1970s for an estimated maximum population of 600,000. In accordance with what was considered to be ideal urban planning at the time, the city has wide grid-pattern roads, and high-density tower blocks

Ch.5.4. After all does it take a starchitect?

In addition to the above examination, as stated in the introduction section, I would also like to explore whether the work of an unknown architect can instill city regeneration.

The Bilbao has been commissioning a new generation of signature architects, for example Santiago Kalatrava, Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvelle.

…. This chapter is not yet finished


Sources/ Bibliography

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4. Brooksbank, A. (2004) "Challenging the seductions of the Bilbao Guggenheim", International journal of Iberian studies

5. Campbell,R. (2009) "Marking the end of the "Bilbao Decade""

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5. Gonzalez, S. "The role of the Guggenheim Museum in the development of urban entrepreneurial practices in Bilbao" (2004) International journal of Iberian studies, 16(3): 177-186

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9. Knox, P. Starchitects, Starchitecture and the symbolic capital of world cities in: Derrunder,B. et al.(2012) International Handbook of Globalization and World Cities. Edward Elgar Publishing ltd

10. Krieger, Z.,(2007) Buying Culture; By Luring Western Institutions Like the Louvre and Yale, Abu Dhabi Aims to Become a Global Arts Center."Newsweek

11. McNeil, D.()The Global Architect: Firms, Fame and Urban Form

10. Plaza, B., Haarich, S.N. (2009) (Museums for urban regeneration? Exploring conditions for their effectiveness, Journal of Urban Regeneration and Renewal

11. Plaza,B., Tironi, M., Haarich, S.N. (2009) Bilbao's Art Scene and the 'Guggenheim effect' Revisited. European Planning Studies 17(11): 1711-1729.

12. Plaza, B. (2007) The Bilbao Effect. Museum News, Sept/Oct 2007, pp. 13-15, 68. American Association of Museums

13. Ponzini,D. (2011) Large scale development projects and star architecture in the absence of democratic politics: The case of Abu Dhabi, UAE, Cities Journals, Volume 28, Issue 3, June 2011, p.251-259

13. 'Museums as 'Flagships' of Urban Development', in L. M. Hoffman, D. Judd and S. S. Fainstein (eds.), Cities and Visitors: Regulating People, Markets, and City Space.

14. Sklair, L. Iconic architecture and capitalist globalization, City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action, Vol.10, Issue 1, 2006

15. Sudjic D 2005c The edifice complex: how the rich and powerful shape the world Penguin, New York

16. Robin Pogrebin (2008-03-30). "French Architect Wins Pritzker Prize". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-30.

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Sources/ Bibliography 18