Agravitas - Bilbao Fine Arts Museum

A project by Norman Foster and Luis María Uriarte for the architectural transformation of the museum

The road map of this important architectural initiative was determined on 11 December 2018 in the Strategic Plan 2019–2022, approved by the Board with the aim of driving the organisational modernisation and the physical expansion of the institution.

The first step towards achieving this goal was the call for bids for the architecture on 11 February, held thanks to funding by BBK, the honorary patron of the museum. On July 23, the bid decision was announced in favour of the project titled ‘Agravitas’, presented by Foster+Partners + LM Uriarte Arkitektura.

In its report, the jury summed up the strengths of the project as follows:

Technological in its image, humanistic in its approach and ecological in its sustainability, the proposal combines architectural quality, urban sensitivity and social responsibility to build a dazzling, subtle milestone in the historic heart of Bilbao.

The core idea is to recover the prominence of the 1945 building by restoring its original entrance. A uniquely-sized space is projected on the existing installations that stands respectfully on the 1945 and 1970 buildings, providing the museum with new galleries on one single open-plan, multi-purpose floor.

The new remodelling turns Plaza Arriaga into the new heart of the museum’s backbone, with light streaming in from the rooflight running across the new gallery, and all the levels on the ground floor will be unified to give the museum an accessible plane where it is easy to orient oneself.

The proposed remodelling is characterised by a new striated piece to enhance its slenderness, with a minimum number of supports placed far from the footprint of the existing buildings.

Goals of the extension project

The main goals of the project include, on the one hand, providing the museum with more space in which to stage its activities, both public and in-house, and, on the other, improving accessibility and respecting and enhancing the value of existing architecture and the natural environment in which it stands. The significant physical extension of the museum amounts to 6,743 m2 of new construction (more than 60%) and the remodelling of another already existing 8,000 m2. At the same time, the sustainability of the facilities is improved for increased energy efficiency and the museum is given greater prominence on the city’s architectural skyline. .

The extension of the exhibition space for the collection and temporary exhibits is one of the project’s great achievements. The collection will have an additional 1,635 m2 (45% more than the current space). For their part, the temporary exhibits will have the new BBK-Museoa space, located on the top floor of the extension. This space and the new terrace together cover 2,200 m2, doubling the current exhibition area.

Another important goal impacts the space earmarked for public activities, which is increased by 81%, with the covered square of the monument to Arriaga—boasting more than 1,000 m2—gaining the most for visitor reception and services. Freely accessible via any of the entrances to the museum, this great public point of convergence will allow the door of the old building to be opened, thus restoring its original functionality to its neoclassical façade. The Arriaga space will also provide direct access to the new Arteder Documentation and Research Centre, which will benefit from more than 500 m2 in the basement of the old building.

The rest of the area gained is divided into spaces for offices, transit, services and facilities.

During the presentation of the project, 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.

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.

On November 2022 took place the Institutional laying of the first Stone.

On January 2024 took place the Institutional laying of the first pillar.

UTE Foster + Partners Ltd. + LM Uriarte Arkitektura S.L.P.

Norman Foster is the founder and executive chairman of Foster + Partners, a global studio for architecture, urbanism and design, rooted in sustainability. His projects include the Reichstag in Berlin, the Great Court of the British Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, airports in Hong Kong and Beijing and headquarters buildings for Hearst (New York), Apple (Cupertino), Bloomberg (London), Comcast (Philadelphia) and the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (Hong Kong). Current research projects, in association with The European Space Agency and NASA, are exploring solutions for the creation of habitations on the Moon and Mars.

He is president of the Norman Foster Foundation, based in Madrid with a global reach, promoting interdisciplinary thinking and research to help new generations of architects, designers and urbanists anticipate the future. He became the 21st Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate in 1999.

In 1997, he was appointed to the Order of Merit and in 1999 was granted a Life Peerage in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, taking the title of Lord Foster of Thames Bank. His passions include cross-country skiing, cycling and aviation.

Luis María Uriarte. Architect/project leader. An acclaimed Basque architect with 30 years of experience. His work has been exhibited in Chicago, Shanghai and Sao Paulo and published in numerous architecture magazines (El Croquis, L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, etc.). He combines his professional practice with teaching at Universidad de Navarra and Academie van Bouwkunst in Amsterdam.

About BBK Museoa

On june 2021, BBK and the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum renewed their alliance through the signing of a new collaboration agreement that establishes the strategic lines of action for the next fifteen years under the BBK Museoa identity.

The joint action between BBK and the museum will take place in the new BBK Museoa space designed by Norman Foster and Luis María Uriarte within the “Agravitas” project for the renovation and extension of the museum. One of the most important actions in the project proposes a new space that will bring together in a single museum area, identified with the new BBK Museoa brand, all the exhibition events and educational and outreach activities associated with the joint programme.Boasting an exhibition area of more than 2,000 square meters, which doubles the current BBK Room, BBK Museoa occupies the main ensemble of the public space of the extension, which is planned on the existing architecture to offer the museum new prominence in the city.

In addition to being a new space, BBK Museoa will be an ambitious art programme targeted at the community closest to the museum and, at the same time, open to an international audience. It aims to stage two major annual exhibitions that foster, through artistic creation and together with an ambitious programme of educational and outreach activities, reflection on the great challenges facing our society today.

The open museum: Activity during the enlargement works

The project’s editing team has confirmed the good news that the museum will be able to remain partially open during nearly the entirety of the construction Project. The expansion project will allow a significant part of the old museum building—the least affected by the construction work—to remain open. It will be accessible via its original entrance, where a provisional ramp will be set up in order to improve access. During this time, the museum’s management has set forth a special rotation programme for the collection so that the largest possible number of works remain on view and so as to ensure that the institution’s education and dissemination programmes continue. Moreover, according to the construction plans, both the departments and internal services of the museum and the bulk of the non-exhibited collection will be able to remain at the museum throughout the construction process.

In line with construction plans, all public-facing museum activity will move to the old building, which will remain open to the public throughout most of the course of the extension, offering exhibitions and their accompanying activities. The collection will be presented through the dynamic BBKateak format consisting of interesting encounters between two artists in each gallery. New installations will be regularly displayed with the dual aim of exploring the riches of the museum collection and sparking stimulations observations among visitors. There will also be other events, such as the Guest Work programme, restorations and other presentations, together with our multi-channel programme (in-person and online) of educational and outreach activities.

Access to the museum will be via the door of the old building on Museo Plaza and admission will be free.

News about the project

  • 2024|05|20 _ Norman Foster’s site visit to the extension of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum Leer más  
  • 2024|02|19 _ Institutional laying of the first stone. Read more  
  • 2022|06|13 _ Agreement of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum on Delay of actions from the proceeding to contract the enlargement and refurbishment works of the museum, to adapt the budget and timeframe of the tender Read more  
  • 2022|03|30 _ The Bilbao Fine Arts Museum publishes the tender for the extension work of the Agravitas project by Norman Foster and Luis María Uriarte. Read more  
  • 2021|09|09 _ 2021-09-09 – The Contracting period for Phase I construction is open: partial preparation for the expansion and refurbishment of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, which will begin in the old building in November.Read more  
  • 2021|06|24 _   BBK Museoa. Nuevo convenio de colaboración entre BBK y el Museo de Bellas artes de Bilbao. Read more 
  • 2020|12|21 _  Today, in a meeting attended both in-person and virtually by Bingen Zupiria, spokesperson and minister of Culture and Linguistic Policy of the Basque Government, Unai Rementeria, chairman of the Provincial Council of Bizkaia, and Juan Mari Aburto, mayor of Bilbao, the Museum Board expressed their support for the expansion plan designed by Norman Foster and Luis Mª Uriarte. Read more
  • 2019|12|16 _ Norman Foster presenta el proyecto de ampliación del Museo de Bellas Artes deNorman Foster presents the project for the remodel of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum. Read more 
  • 2019|07|23 _   Project to enlarge and remodel the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum. Read more