Citywide makeovers

While a single high-profile, statement building can revitalise a city, some places crave an entire new look

By Glen Mutel
Published 21 Dec 2016, 08:00 GMT, Updated 8 Jul 2021, 10:27 BST
Pierresvives, Montpellier, France

Pierresvives, Montpellier, France.

Photograph by Alamy

When a city feels a little unloved or overshadowed, one path to popularity is to try to recreate the 'Bilbao effect' — by which we mean to pay a famous architect to design an eye-catching building, in the hope that the rest of the world will take note. It's a phenomenon named after the northern Spanish city, which put itself on the map in 1997 when it unveiled the now iconic Guggenheim Museum, designed by architecture's very own King Midas, Frank Gehry. However, sometimes just one new building isn't enough, with cities such as Milan, Montpellier and Tirana taking a far more ambitious approach and attempting far more extensive makeovers. 

Milan: Sibling rivalry
In an attempt to steal the limelight from prettier siblings Rome, Venice and Florence, Milan has embraced modernity within its CityLife development, which features apartment blocks by Daniel Libeskind and Zaha Hadid, plus a tower from Arata Isozaki. This follows the Bosco Verticale opened in 2014, which comprises two balconied high-rises resembling a vertical jungle.

Montpellier: Modern follies
Montpellier has become a lab for experimental architecture. Recent developments include blocks by the likes of Zaha Hadid (pictured), while planned projects include a Phillipe Starck-designed spa. The city also plans to erect 12 striking 'modern follies' in its Port Marianne area.

Tirana: Starting again
The Albanian capital has handed Stefano Boeri — the man behind Milan's Bosco Verticale — the task of redesigning a huge section of the city, including buildings and roads, over the next 14 years. Early plans include plenty of green spaces and a huge ring road for bicycles and pedestrians.

Athens: Cultural clout
The Greek capital is seeking the 'Bilbao effect' with the February 2017 opening of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center — a complex designed by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, housing the Greek National Opera, the National Library and a park.

Published in the Jan/Feb 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)


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