Azkuna Zentroa, 2017–2018 Global Awards for Excellence Winner

Location: Bilbao, Bizkaia, Basque Country, Spain
Developer: Bilbao City Council, Alhóndiga, Center of Ocio y Cultura, Bilbao Ría 2000
Designer: Philippe Starck
Site Size: 43,000 square meters (463,000 sq ft)

Azkuna Zentroa, formerly known as Alhóndiga Bilbao, is the art, culture, and leisure center in the heart of Bilbao, located inside one of the city’s most iconic buildings—the former municipal wine warehouse, which has more than 100 years of history.

The building’s rehabilitation was commissioned to Philippe Starck, with the goal of creating a multidisciplinary space open to all and fostering holistic personal growth and the development of human relationships. It is a new public center that, with dynamism and innovation, hosts a range of activities dedicated to the diffusion and fusion—for the first time in the same space—of all the aspects, concerns, disciplines, curiosities, and hobbies that a person can have.


Azkuna Zentroa- Site Plan; Credit: Gonzalo de las Heras
Azkuna Zentroa- Rooftop Concert; Credit: José Miguel LLano
Azkuna Zentroa- Swimming pool; Credit: José Miguel LLano
Azkuna Zentroa- Auditorium; Credit: Eva Zubero


The 43,000 square meters (463,000 sq ft) of Azkuna Zentroa comprise three main buildings within the existing structure, which was originally erected in 1909 by the architect Ricardo Bastida. The facades of this modernist building, declared a “Building of Cultural Interest” by the Basque government in 1998, have been maintained and rehabilitated. The exterior classicism contrasts with the urban, singular, innovative, and sober interior, designed by Starck, where life and energy meld.

After decades of activity, the building was closed in the late 1970s, and different remodeling projects failed. Its rehabilitation took almost ten years and an investment of around €75 million (US$87 million). The project recovered a historic building and a huge urban space in the city center; for several years, the Indautxu neighborhood—the real core of the city center—had lacked public facilities such as a library or sports infrastructure.

Today, Azkuna Zentroa opens its doors every day for residents and tourists seeking to understand the socioeconomic and urban transformation that Bilbao achieved in the past 25 years, leaving behind its industrial past. Along with the Guggenheim Museum, Azkuna Zentroa is already part of the new Bilbao.

Publications: The ULI Global Awards for Excellence 2017 Winners and Finalists

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