There was a time, many years ago, when anything even remotely associable to a famous modern architect would’ve sent me drooling in envy. Back in those years I was rock in the belief that, to be considered worth existing, a city had to have some sculpture made by Anish Kapoor, an auditorium by Zaha Hadid, a Daniel Libeskind skyscraper and, why not, a modern art museum penned by Christian de Portzamparc, whose named I was proud to pronounce without hiccuping on the notoriously insidious “tz”.
Time changed and my priorities shifted. People became a lot more interesting than buildings and I began noticing that the cities I loved the most – Istanbul, Budapest, Marrakech, Rio de Janeiro – had struck a particular cord in me not for their swanky glassy behemoths but, rather, for their history, their markets, their food, the smiles of their dwellers. Buildings, no matter how daring, how modern or how worthy to feature on the front page of Monocle, lost their prime spot and ended to be part of the background noise.
Then Bilbao arrived. First it was the new Athletic Bilbao arena, then the blue wedge of the Iberdrola tower, then the delightfully impractical Guggenheim: the true heart of the city must’ve lied elsewhere and those were only the flypaper used to catch tourists, but it felt impossible not to return to my old self, drooling over the projects I had seen and followed over the Internet. And that’s basically what I did.