This article was translated by John R. Bopp

Today, we’re going to make one of those exceptions that we so love, and talk about an article published in a Spanish newspaper, El País.  And we’re doing so because an interview by Begoña Gómez Urzaiz with architect Frank Gehry seems to us to be worthy of sharing.  We’re sure it’s going to fly under the radar in the Spanish media, because it speaks well of the Basques, and especially well of the Basques who led the institutions that made the decision to build the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum.

It was all clean and pure, everyone was telling the truth.  When the Basques say something, you don’t have to get it in writing.  They keep their word in a way that I’d never seen before.  Theirs is a different culture, special.

From the first moment that the Basque Government, the Biscay Government, and the City of Bilbao announced their decision to push for the construction, in Bilbao, of a museum under the Guggenheim Foundation, the reactions from certain political, social, and media groups was ferocious.  Also clear was the lack of support and enthusiasm (to be magnanimous) shown by the Spanish Government.  We’ve spoken about this before, so you can read about it here.

The reason why it hasn’t been able to be replicated is because elsewhere they don’t have that cultural complement, the commitment to the community.  If you want a Bilbao effect, study the culture, study the people.

In the article, the architect explains his vision of the Basques and how they laid out their thoughts and their negotiation in relation to the construction of the Museum, which is a key piece to understanding the profound transformation the Bilbao metro area is undergoing, and which has caused such interest around the world for the past two decades.  Interest has been such that even today, cities around the world are sending representatives to Bilbao to understand what happened there, and to see what elements of this “success story” can be incorporated into projects in other cities.

With unbreakable fame and aged 88, Gehry finds himself at a point in life when one doesn’t feel the need to sugar-coat anything for anyone, especially not for a client from twenty years ago.  That’s why we feel his words have so much value.

It’s also quite a story to see how little impact these words will surely have in the Spanish media.  Can our readers imagine how different things would have been if he’d said that his Basque comrades had been a bunch of flakes?  That would have been headlines on all the media’s websites.  

They do work in teams, work with very limited budgets.  Bilbao was built for €80 million, very cheap.  No one talks about that.

It’s also quite meaningful to analyze the reactions of some of El País’s readers, who we’ve “met” via their comments.  It’s incredible how bothered some get when people speak well of the Basques, especially certain Basques.

There’s one “contribution” that’s very indicative of that feeling: “Such chauvinism!  All he left out is that we pee blessed water!  You can find everything here, like everywhere else!”  Apart from using the word “chauvinism” incorrectly, we have to accept that part of this comment, “You can find everything here, just like everywhere else!” is the gospel truth.

It’s obvious that Gehry only met a few people, those who wanted to move the project forward, and it is they that he is talking about.  It’s true that among the Basques, “you can find everything”, but it seems that those who belong “to the other group” weren’t among those Basques.  Perhaps they are those who even twenty years later still suffer from the project’s success, and pray that something will go wrong so that they can say, “I told you so.

El País – 2/9/2017 – España

“Los vascos mantienen su palabra como no lo había visto nunca”

Frank Goldberg, como todos los de Bilbao, nació donde quiso. Y en su caso fue Toronto. Hijo de inmigrantes judíos, un ruso y una polaca, solía pasar el rato dibujando, armando bloques de madera en casa de su abuela y jugando con materiales pesados en la ferretería de su padre. La familia se trasladó más tarde a California y el joven Frank condujo camiones durante tres años y enlazó trabajos que compaginaba con sus estudios. Allí tampoco encontraba su sitio, hasta que cayó en una clase de arquitectura y ahí, de repente, todo cuadró: los dibujos y los bloques de la abuela. Fue también en esa época cuando cambió su apellido por el de Gehry para evitarse problemas en unos Estados Unidos todavía muy antisemitas.

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