The other side of museums: Alhóndiga Bilbao
Culture finds different ways of showing its essence. It does so majestically in large museums which for centuries have seen faces passing in front of the canvases, or from the day-to-day activity of places such as AlhóndigaBilbao. This is a cultural and leisure centre that considers its relationship with people from a closer, more enjoyable standpoint, and above all one that is highly innovative and sustainable.
The building is a former wine, liquor and oil store that was refurbished by the French designer Philippe Starck and reopened in May 2010. Around the motto of Mens Sana in Corpore Sano, AlhóndigaBilbao has divided its space between three buildings that present almost any manifestation of leisure that one could imagine.
The building of physical activities has a gymnasium, changing rooms and two swimming pools, one of which has a translucent bottom that lets light into the hall. Vicky Pérez, one of the workers who deals with keeping the place perfectly clean, finds this the most impressive place. “It's beautiful but it makes me very nervous. I feel really giddy when I think that the people are on the glass, with no other support”, she says. Her companion Vicky Gómez’s favourite place is the Bastida multipurpose room (devoted to Ricardo Bastida, the architect who built the building in 1909). “Its levels are set out in a very special way”. Both women say how unusual it is to work in such a special, widely visited building (more than 3 million visits since it was opened). “It is a living building”, says Gómez. “That's right. There's always something new. We like it because we know the routine will never get us down”, her workmate adds.
The other great space that makes AlhóndigaBilbao such a special place is the Mediateka: 3,800 m2 understood as a social area for cultural enjoyment. Miriam Reguilón works in these rooms and “is delighted to take part in such an innovative project”. Miriam deals with attending people who come to consult or take away the bibliographic and audiovisual content available (“there are people who are very surprised to be able to take a book away without paying”). “A lot of tourists are attracted by the building, immigrants come to watch television and take away books in their own languages, families with children come to use the Txikiland (60,000 volumes in different formats for the young)…” she explains. As well as working there, Miriam studies in the Mediateka and uses the sports facilities, although the place she finds most special is “the reserved areas with armchairs and lamps with soft lighting that give privacy while you flick through a book or magazine. It is a building where you enjoy being”.