The new Guggenheim Museum in Urdaibai collides with resistance from environmentalists | Culture

The expansion of the Guggenheim in Bilbao towards the Urdaibai coast is once again gaining momentum. The Bizkaia Provincial Council has announced that it will allocate 40 million euros to the construction of a new museum headquarters in this protected natural area, the only area in the Basque Country declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. The project plans to transfer to this area a museum model that “will encourage active dialogue between art and landscape”. The second Guggenheim will have two locations, one in Gernika and the other in Murueta, which will be linked by a five kilometer long green path. Ecological groups coordinated by the platform Zain Dezagun Urdaibai (Let’s take care of Urdaibai) have gone on a war footing, denouncing that an “environmental outrage” is going to be committed and have presented allegations to the urban plan promoted by the Bizkaia Provincial Council.

The idea of ​​locating another Guggenheim in Urdaibai, complementary to the titanium building that opened in 1997 in the Biscayan capital, dates back to 2008. In these almost 15 years, the initial plan has evolved until reaching a concept of a two-headed museum, with an office in Gernika and another in Murueta. The director of the Guggenheim Bilbao, Juan Ignacio Vidarte, recently explained to EL PAÍS that the Urdaibai project is a “qualitative” improvement of the Bilbao museum. He describes it as “an antithesis and a complement” to Frank Gehry’s icon, which is conceived as a singular installation, intended for “a slow visit” that will “emphasize the relationship between art, landscape and ecology” .

The latest economic calculation estimates the investment required to undertake the “discontinuous expansion” of the Guggenheim at 127 million. A large part of the financing is entrusted to obtaining resources from the European Next Generation funds. The Bizkaia Provincial Council and the Ministry of Ecological Transition have signed a protocol this week that represents a political backing for the project. In addition, the Government assumes the commitment to channel the request to Brussels for aid that will be allocated to the new museum. Through this European channel, 81 million are expected to be received, to which the 40 million that the regional institution will assign would be added. The future museum on the coast would attract 148,000 visitors a year, according to the report presented a year ago by the Bilbao center; its exploitation would contribute to maintaining 692 jobs and would generate a wealth of 39 million annually.

The Oka River as it passes through Murueta, very close to where the new Guggenheim Museum in Urdaibai would be located.Javier Hernandez

The proposal that is now on the table consists of converting the old La Dalia cutlery and kitchenware factory, in the municipality of Gernika (17,000 inhabitants), into a study center and residence for artists. A greenway parallel to the Oka River would start from this point and pass through land belonging to the municipalities of Forua (928 neighbors) and Kortezubi (444). This path would make it possible to reach the current facilities of the Murueta shipyard, where fifty people work in an area of ​​43,000 square meters, on foot, by bicycle or by electric vehicle. Here, in an area far from the urban center of Murueta (300 inhabitants), an observatory, a museum and an exhibition space would be installed. “The avant-garde concept proposed for the expansion will combine the residence of artists and researchers and the organization of educational programs, beyond the permanent collection and temporary exhibitions” located in “a context of ecological and architectural excellence”.

View of the Urdaibai estuary in Murueta (Bizkaia).
View of the Urdaibai estuary in Murueta (Bizkaia).Javier Hernandez

Erroxeli Ojinaga, spokesperson for Zain Dezagun Urdaibai, maintains that the project is “death foretold” for the Busturialdea region, where the Urdaibai estuary is located. The expansion of the Guggenheim, he believes, “is a shot in the neck to the protection regime.” The “massification of tourism” that this environment will suffer is striking if official forecasts are met and the “problems” that have been occurring in other points of interest for visitors, such as Gaztelugatxe, where restrictions have had to be imposed, are reproduced. to preserve its status. Environmentalists warn that the museum project violates environmental regulations and threatens the declaration of this natural area included in the European Natura 2000 network and declared a Special Conservation Area (ZEC) and Special Protection Area for Birds (ZEPA).

“I am extremely critical of the project, because to put a Guggenheim museum in Urdaibai, one of the many that have been failing throughout the world, we are going to put an end to something that does not exist anywhere else in the world: the biosphere reserve. of Urdaibai, that the institutions have been letting her die for years. Now they have decided to give it the finishing touch by putting it in the area, ”says former Berdeak Equo parliamentarian Joserra Becerra.

The environmental groups have presented allegations to the modification of the Partial Territorial Plan of the Busturialdea Area, a required procedure to make room for the new museum in Urdaibai, and request that an unfavorable report be issued on the environmental impact study. Óscar Padura, from Eguzki, considers that authorizing the extension would mean executing “works, uses and installations that would produce permanent, irreversible damage and significant effects on the natural cultural heritage of the biosphere reserve.” In addition, the opponents of the project cite, this “does not comply with the determinations and protective purposes established by the legislation for the protection of the environment and biodiversity, defense of the public domain and its easement areas.”

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