La Alhóndiga de Bilbao was an old wine warehouse built at the beginning of the 20th century in the area where the Biscayan capital was undertaking its urban development. Today that area is practically the center of Bilbao, but at the time it was known as the Ensanche. Something that was also happening around that time in other Spanish capitals, such as Barcelona and its famous Eixample. And just like that new neighborhood in Barcelona, it became the ideal place for the most innovative architects to work, such as Gaudí himself. The same thing happened in Bilbao's Ensanche, although here there was more of a trend towards a historicist Modernism.
Exterior of the Alhóndiga
In this current we must integrate La Alhóndiga which was designed between 1905 and 1909 by the Basque architect Ricardo Bastida (1878 – 1953). And it is that from the outside we can see that for something as functional as a huge warehouse he created facades that are reminiscent of medieval or Renaissance fortresses. Although, he was able to combine that aspect with the use of new materials, since this building was one of the first public works that resorted to the use of reinforced concrete as a structural element.
However, that elegant and enormous warehouse was practically destroyed in a fire and for decades remained a ruin. However, at the end of the 20th century the idea ofreconvert it into a cultural facility for the city. And although the idea was slow to start, its recovery was finally undertaken.
And for this task the architectural design was entrusted to the Frenchman Philippe Starck (1949 –) who has conceived a modern leisure and culture center for the city. The facade of the original building was hardly modified. But instead the entire interior was torn down to be built anew completely different.
Three large, multi-storey brick-built cubes were raised. In fact, the entire rehabilitation has used the same materials as the original building, that is, steel, brick and concrete.
Interior of La Alhóndiga
For example, steel is found in the tall pillars that rise in the inner courtyard of La Alhóndiga. And as for those three large brick cubes that house spaces as varied as a library, restaurants, a gym or exhibition and cinema halls, they stand on 43 columns. Each one completely different from the rest. A set in which the Italian set designer Lorenzo Baraldi participated, and they intend to capture interculturality and a possible coexistence despite differences.
And if the columns attract attention at the bottom, at the top a pool does. Which is visible at certain points from below, so that the water becomes the cover. A cover that allows the passage of light and is mobile, thanks to the movementbathers give to the waters.
In short, the old Alhóndiga, opened in 2010 and whose current name is Azkuna Center, has joined the list of architectural interventions signed by the great stars of the world construction. And the fact is that Starck in Bilbao is accompanied by Frank Gehry and the emblematic Guggenheim, or the British Sir Norman Foster, creator of the new subway entrances Bilbao.