Azkuna Zentroa: A Cultural Center Like No Other

25/06/2021

The Azkuna Zentoa is one of the most unique buildings you will find anywhere. At its heart it is a cultural centre, but in reality it is much more than that. This isn't your grandpa's Rotary Club. Most cultural centres are bland buildings that offer rooms for classes and perhaps a gymnasium. The Azkuna Zentoa is in a different realm than the traditional cultural centre, let's explore.

Azkuna Zentroa Main Entrance
Azkuna Zentroa Main Entrance

The Azkuna Zentoa is a multi-storey, multi-use complex in the Indautxu region of Bilbao. Outside you can tell that this building was built long ago. Not because it is worn down, quite the opposite, it has been taken care of extremely well and is of an architectural design that is rarely seen. Inside is a tasteful bohemian canvas that allows for the fluidity of events that are constantly rotating through. The Azkuna Zentroa easily cracks the top 5 must see things in Bilbao.

Outside the Azkuna Zentroa
Outside the Azkuna Zentroa

History

Construction on what at the time was called the Alhóndiga Bilbao began in 1905 and was completed four years later. Designed by the Spanish architect Ricardo Bastida. The Alhóndiga was originally a wine warehouse until the 1970's when it was abandoned.

Rooftop view of Arriquibar Plaza
Rooftop view of Arriquibar Plaza

For two decades the building lay in obscurity. In 1994 the task of renovating and rejuvenating this sleeping giant was taken on by French designer Phillipe Stark. It was under his guidance that this 43,000 square meter warehouse became one of the most diverse cultural centers around.

Ground Floor

When you walk into the Azkuna Zentroa off of Ipparaguirre Kalea (street) it will catch you off guard. It is a huge space that is mostly unoccupied. It is dimly lit without feeling dark. The smooth concrete floors and red ceiling are juxtaposed by the dozens of girthy pillars.

Pillars on the south end of the Azkuna Zentroa
Pillars on the south end of the Azkuna Zentroa

The pillars are something special and no two of them are the same. Some are smooth while others are ridged. There are some that look like they could be large vases from a distant land while others look like Grecian pillars or an expression of the industrial complex. It is worth walking the entire complex looking at each one like exhibits in a museum.

White draped pillar in the Azkuna Zentroa
White draped pillar in the Azkuna Zentroa

To the left side of the building, when entering from Ipparaguirre Kalea, there is a seating area where the benches are lit up internally. While walking towards them the ceiling of the main floor splits and you can look up four stories to the base of the transparent swimming pool on the top floor. The entrance to the gym and pool is the opposite direction as the illuminated benches.

Lit up benches
Lit up benches

Just past the seating section there is a sign on a glass window that says "This is Basque design." Here you'll discover a store that sells gifts made by Basque artists in different media. Next door is the information office where you can learn more about the building and plan a guided tour. Just past the information section is the entrance to the offices that occupy a section of the complex.

Look up to the rooftop pool
Look up to the rooftop pool

Walking past the information section the ceiling becomes vaulted and jumps 5 stories. The contradiction in space makes this area feel even larger than it is. From here you can see the beautiful brick facade of the offices and library. The arched windows add a touch of elegance in what was once an industrial warehouse. There are also a couple of restaurants if you're interested in chilling out.

Ground floor of the Azkuna Zentroa
Ground floor of the Azkuna Zentroa

Downstairs

Take the stairs or elevator down to the lower floors. There you will come to an auditorium that seats a large number of people. This area is often closed to the general public without a tour or an event taking place.

Rotating art exhibition
Rotating art exhibition

Below the auditorium is a multi-theatre cinema that shows a variety of movies including cult classics. Next to the cinema is a large area that holds rotating exhibitions of Basque artists. These exhibitions are fluid in their expression and medium and may vary largely between featured artists. 

Seasonal art exhibition
Seasonal art exhibition

Library

The library takes up a section of the second to fourth floors. Entrance is free and all are welcome. The first floor of the library has areas to sit and read as well as chairs next to the arched windows.

Inside the main entrance
Inside the main entrance

To the opposite side of the library from the arched windows is the kids' section that has a themed section your child will enjoy while learning. At the back is an area dedicated for a small exhibition. This is also rotated throughout the year.

View to the foyer from the library
View to the foyer from the library

The upper floors are dedicated to archives and digital media and even include a section on comics. There is one area that is dedicated to Bastida Bulegoa. It is a glassed-in office dedicated to the man who built the building in 1905, Ricardo Bulegoa.

Inside the Azkuna Zentroa library
Inside the Azkuna Zentroa library

Terrace

Atop the Azkuna Zentroa is the terrace. It allows for views of the surrounding area and the parks below. It has loungers that provide visitors a place to bask in the sun. There are large brick arches that separate sections of the roof. This is also a roped off section for those who are coming from the gym and pool.

Azkuna Zentroa rooftop patio
Azkuna Zentroa rooftop patio

The Azkuna Zentroa is not like any other building of its kind. The arched brick edifice is raised on pillars where no two are alike and are particularly entrancing. The see-through swimming pool bottom that can be seen from four floors. There is a library and art exhibitions on every floor for you to enjoy. The experience one has here is unparalleled. If you haven't spent time here yet, add it to your bucket list.

Pillars beside the look up to the pool
Pillars beside the look up to the pool

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