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How V&A could mirror Guggenheim museum's success

Bilbao in Spain struggled in the 90s until the grand museum was built, changing fortunes.

The Guggenheim museum in Bilbao is a startling sight, a folded ribbon of titanium and glass rising from the banks of the River Nervion.

Over the past 20 years 'The Guggenheim Effect' has become shorthand for regeneration and urban renewal.

In Scotland, Dundee hopes to write its own regeneration story with the construction of the £80m V&A museum.

When the Guggenheim museum was first proposed, Bilbao in Spain was in the middle of an economic crisis.

Heavy industry dominated the city's skyline, yet the factories and ironworks that long maintained Bilbao's place as an economic powerhouse were closing down, causing widespread unemployment.

Dundee hopes to write its own regeneration story with the £80m V&A museum.
Dundee hopes to write its own regeneration story with the £80m V&A museum. Hufton+Crow

Flowing through the city centre, the River Nervion was badly polluted and prone to severe flooding.

"There was a point of no return where Bilbao dies, or Bilbao lives.

"The politicians decided that Bilbao must live," explains Luis Alfonso Gamez, a journalist for local paper El Correo.

"Some people thought it was a waste of money and a waste of time, others believed in it.

"But we knew that the city needed something more. But when the Guggenheim opened, it all changed for people."

The museum was built more than 20 years ago.
The museum was built more than 20 years ago. STV

Within three years of opening, four million people had visited the museum, generating hundreds of millions for the ailing Basque economy.

Begoña Martínez Goyenaga, the Guggenheim's marketing director said: "It gave big regeneration and transformation to a city not only in an artistic or cultural way, but in an urbanism and the architecture in the rest of the city.

"That's very good for all of our self esteem as well."

The Guggenheim now welcomes around a million visitors each year, three times the population of the city itself.

https://stv.tv/news/north/1430878-first-look-inside-new-v-a-dundee-ahead-of-public-opening/ | default

The V&A is expecting 500,000 in its first year alone, which is hoped will kickstart tourism on the Tay.

But Bilbao's recovery cannot be attributed to the museum alone.

The Guggenheim was part of a wider project which saw the construction of a new subway designed by Norman Foster, allowing locals from the wider municipality easy access to the city.

The River Nervion was cleaned, with flood prevention measures added. Derelict factories were torn down with the land reopened for public use.

Millions of people flock to Bilbao to visit the museum.
Millions of people flock to Bilbao to visit the museum. STV

Bilbao's councillor for urban planning Asier Abaunza believes this is the true key to Bilbao's success.

He said: "Bilbao didn't change because we had a view of the future in the 1990's - we changed because we had to.

"There was no other option. Bilbao has always been a commercial and industrial city, very connected with the transportation of steel and other goods and the factories and the port were in the middle of the city.

"They occupied the central part of the city and both river banks. In fact the city was given back to the river, the waterfront was given back."

In Dundee too, the V&A is part of the £1bn Waterfront development, a transformation spanning 240 hectares of land which councillors claim could create up to 7000 jobs.

Both cities share a past rocked by industrial decline.

Whether or not Dundee can share Bilbao's future as a global cultural capital lies in the months and years to come.

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