Institutional laying of the first stone
Participants in the event, which was held today outside the museum near the glass façade of the Alameda Conde Arteche, included Lorea Bilbao, provincial councillor for Euskera, Culture and Sport; Bingen Zupiria, councillor for Culture and Linguistic Policy of the Basque government; Juan Mari Aburto, mayor of the Bilbao Town Hall; Xabier Sagredo, President of BBK Banking Foundation; Lord Norman Foster and Luis María Uriarte, architects of the project; Miguel Zugaza, the museum director; and Carmen López Niclós and Rut Salaverri on behalf of the Friends of the Museum.
After burying the time capsule with newspapers, along with coins that are legal tender and a copy of the variation order which formalised the last step in executing the project, speeches were delivered in the Chillida Hall. This event ended with Foster and Uriarte signing one of the shovels—made by Bellota, the century-old tool brand from Guipúzcoa—which symbolises the beginning of construction and will be conserved in the museum’s industrial design collection.
The ceremony was attended by the boards of the museum and the BBK Banking Foundation and by representatives from civil society and the world of culture, as well as the studios and companies involved in the project and the team from the museum.
Next, the director of the museum, Miguel Zugaza, welcomed the participants before introducing the speech by Xabier Sagredo, who pointed out how with this new milestone both institutions were renewing five decades of joint actions which will receive a new impetus in the BBK Museoa space, whose more than 2,000 square metres will offer an intensive exhibition and public activities programme. He also recalled that the museum will remain open for most of the 22 months when the project will be underway, showing the collection following the dynamic BBKateak format of encounters between artists from different periods in art history.
Next, Juan Mari Aburto highlighted that the roadmap of this decisive architectural transformation was set forth in the 2019–2022 strategic plan approved by the museum board in 2018, and that the first step in achieving it was announcing the international tender for projects for the Enlargement and Reform of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum in early 2019. The mayor highlighted the extraordinary opportunity to welcome the talent of Norman Foster to Bilbao once again; he and Luis María Uriarte are bringing an exciting new protagonism to one of the oldest and most prominent art museums in Spain. He also showcased the close collaboration between the team that drew up the project and the different departments within the Town Hall, which has led to major improvements like the adaptation of the existing buildings to current civil protection standards.
An audiovisual created for the occasion graphically summarised the intense project design process, from the initial drawings and ideas by Foster and Uriarte to the final definition of the construction project, which was awarded last 9 September to the joint venture Ampliación Bellas Artes comprised of Empresa Constructora Urbelan, S.A. + Altuna y Uria, S.A. + Campezo Obras y Servicios, S.A. and Teusa Técnicas de Restauración, S.A., with a budget of €33,944,603.87.
With the event today, the museum concluded the preparations for the enlargement. As Bingen Zupiria noted, this ‘ushers in a new era for our institution, even though its importance extends even further given that it underscores the evolution of one of the longstanding institutions in our art system, and thus confirms not only its relevancy but also the institutions’ support for the transformative capacity of culture and its invaluable contribution to the country’.
Next Maite Paliza Monduate, a professor of Art History and member of the museum’s Artistic Advisory Committee, spoke to highlight the fact that ‘Foster’s proven ability to create iconic spaces in his enlargement and intervention projects in previous buildings, including some museums, will also become clear in this project in Bilbao. I think that the new visitor reception hall, which is focused around the Monument to Arriaga by Durrio, is fated to become one of the landmarks of Bilbao.’
To conclude, Norman Foster stressed: ‘We are delighted to celebrate the birth of a project which will link the cultural heritage of the past to the museum of the future. From the new gathering space in the Arriaga atrium the visitor will proceed to the spacious new galleries and then discover the outdoor terrace that celebrates the museum’s unique location. The result of our close collaboration with Luis María Uriarte and the museum team is now about to become a reality. We would like to pay tribute to the General Deputy of the Provincial Council of Bizkaia, the Regional Minister of Culture and Linguistic Policy of the Basque Government, the Mayor of the City Council of Bilbao and the President of BBK Banking Foundation – all for their commitment of the positive role of art in the life of the city’.
Summary of the main milestones in the enlargement project
The roadmap of this decisive architectural transformation was set forth in the 2019–2022 strategic plan approved by the museum board on 11 December 2018. The first step in achieving it was announcing the international tender for projects for the Enlargement and Reform of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum on 11 February 2019. The tender was financed by BBK, the museum’s Honorary Patron and a faithful ally in the key junctures in its recent history.
Of the 57 teams admitted in the first phase, the jury determined the six finalists on 8 April 2019, and finally, on 23 July it announced its decision in favour of the project presented by Foster+Partners + LM Uriarte Arkitektura whose slogan was Agravitas. The announcement of the decision, which was unanimous, summarised the strengths of the project as follows: ‘Technological in its image, humanistic in its approach and ecological in its sustainability, it is a proposal that merges architectural quality, urban sensibility and social responsibility to create a light, luminous landmark in the historical heart of Bilbao’.
Both the winning project and the finalists were exhibited to the public in the museum’s BBK gallery between 29 July and 6 October. In December of that same year, Foster held a press conference where he presented a glimpse of the project and its driving idea: to reviving the protagonism of the 1945 building by restoring its original entrance, and to design a space with unique dimensions that is respectfully layered upon the 1945 and 1970 buildings. The project is also turning Plaza del Monumento a Arriaga, the square where Durrio’s Monument to Arriaga is located, into the museum’s new main artery.
On 31 March 2022, the museum published the tender for the execution of the work in the Public Procurement Platform of the Basque Country, which had to be reworded due to the current juncture. On 9 September of this year, it was awarded to the joint venture Ampliación Bellas Artes comprised of Empresa Constructora Urbelan, S.A. + Altuna y Uria, S.A. + Campezo Obras y Servicios, S.A. and Teusa Técnicas de Restauración, S.A.
The confirmation of the variation order was drafted on 8 November, a necessary step in the execution of the project.