The renovation of the Basque Museum in Bilbao becomes complicated

The renovation and expansion project at the Basque Museum in Bilbao is encountering obstacles. The transformation of the archeology and ethnography museum requires technical interventions not planned in the initial project, which result in the cost of the work being exceeded by 40%, now estimated at 21 million euros. The construction site is also delayed: the end of the work is now scheduled for June 2025, for a reopening of the museum by the end of 2025.

Initiated in 2010, the project includes the overall renovation of the building, the overhaul of its museography and its expansion to reach 6,400 m² of surface area (38% more compared to the current space). The project first focused on the development of the adjoining cloister, which was renovated and fitted with glass cladding between 2016 and 2018, then on the acquisition of the Kurtze building, located next to the museum, in the aim of transforming it into a museological space. An outdoor warehouse has also been set up to house the museum's collections.

Since 2020, the museum has been closed for further work, supervised by the architectural firm Vaillo + Irigaray. But in July 2023, companies in charge of construction reported a “impossibility of materializing the execution project as it was drawn up, due to problems in the structure of the building known as Misericordia, which also weakens the facade of the building located in Plaza Unamuno”.

A modification of the building permit was then requested in November to “prevent facades from falling while work is in progress”, explains Jon Bilbao Urquijo, municipal councilor responsible for urban planning. The new plan also involves modifying the foundations of the Kurtze building as well as the entire drainage system. Due to its fragility, the Plaza Unamuno building was demolished, sparking criticism from city councilor Karlos Renedo who points out that “the building was protected, declared an Asset of Cultural Interest and therefore provided with protection”.

The increase in the cost of the work, with an additional cost of 40%, is attributed to these unforeseen technical problems but also to the increase in the prices of construction materials and interest rates. To cope with this overrun, the municipality of Bilbao – which finances half of the project with the provincial council of Biscay – has decided to increase the allocated amount by more than 5 million euros. A decision criticized by the opposition which deplores the ” lack of transparency “ of the municipality on this matter and the fact that it “must increase his credit with three banks to finance this operation”.

Founded in 1921, the Vasco Museum of Bilbao is located in the heart of the historic center, where it occupies the former San Andrés Jesuit college built in the 17th century. The museum, dedicated to the history and culture of the Basque people, brings together more than 20,000 archaeological and ethnographic pieces. Among them is the Idol of Mikeldi, a zoomorphic sculpture dating back to the Second Iron Age.

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