Sustainable Cities Collective has re-launched as Smart Cities Dive! Click here to learn more!

Lessons Geneva Can Learn From the Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao, Spain

A modern building in the Plainpalais neighborhood in Geneva, Switzerland

In psychoanalysis, a disaster is the absence of direction or of a point of reference. Today, it must be admitted that this absence affects all aspects of society. This results in the abundance of games for crowds hungry to win quick fortunes, our everything-offered-for-free era, and to finish the list, the excesses of design. In real estate, and more particularly in architecture, it is striking! Computers construct virtual buildings with repetitive three-dimensional views. What is the result? An unvarying kind of architecture as seen in the pictures found here, here, or here.

With such buildings, the construction details are incomplete, therefore accelerating the aging process. Service and maintenance for the buildings vanish, but that does not matter so long as everything looks "cool." The other consequence is a complete lack of urban planning seeing as a computer program cannot deal with this problem. And so it systematically offers us lifeless figures with frozen movements.

All the same, some examples do exist of a building becoming a constructive force in a city, and not just a new "thing" that does nothing but satisfy the ego of its architect. For example, let's take the Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao, Spain. Before the Bilbao 2000 program, the city was struggling to recover from a profound economic crisis following the closure of its heavy industry.

The Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao, Spain

The museum integrated itself into the city through interacting with it and through breathing life into the infrastructure constructed afterwards. According to Wikipedia, it cost 100 million dollars in 1997 and welcomes a million visitors every year. It has contributed more than 1.47 billion dollars to the Basque economy, and has created 4,500 jobs either directly or indirectly.

Today, we complain in our Helvetic green pastures that the banking economy is declining and that many jobs are going to disappear. Without asking the question of whether or not this industry represents an excessively large part of our GDP, we can reflect about our society's lack of imagination in bouncing back.

When a restructuring of the harbor is planned, we are helpless. When a new museum is planned for the banks of Lausanne's rivers, help! When experiments are tried in the Beaulieu, help! When they plan a tower for Geneva's right bank, the result is rejection! Finally, the various narrow-minded and patronizing committees serving the state have done the same before, which only fuels the current lack of imagination!

Maybe we don't have the same desire that the residents of Bilbao had. However, comparing the two is easy since the Basque city has fewer inhabitants than Geneva, even when counting its urban area. It is time to develop a vision for our own region, and to perhaps find in the image of Bilbao an icon for quality of life, space, and employment!

Apart from having economic value, which attributes can make a building a constructive force for its city?

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.