Star architecture spreads in Europe: Culture-led waterfront projects between 1990 and 2015

Davide Ponzini*, Mina Akhavan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedings/Edited volumeChapterScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


This contribution is the first attempt to provide a systematic study of the spread of culture-led waterfront projects in Europe that are designed (or inclusive of substantial elements designed) by major transnational firms, often labelled as star architects. We introduce a new method for mapping transnational projects and firms, including a database covering design firms and details of their completed projects within the period 1990-2015. After describing the trajectories of such projects in Europe, this contribution traces the spread of star architecture projects before and after the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao in 1997, one of the most reputed case of this kind, namely, a star architecture project for a cultural facility that is the centrepiece of a larger waterfront redevelopment master plan. By focusing on five case studies of similar projects being completed from the early 1990s to the mid-2010s (in Genoa, London, Oslo, Reykjavik and Lyon), we argue that, despite the spread of the belief in the regenerative power of single star architecture buildings (i.e., so-called "Bilbao effect"), the effects of such projects depend on a wider set of urban planning and policy actions. In addition, we observe that the spread might be due to the political legitimisation of projects in similar urban and planning conditions rather than the mere transfer of the same scheme.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAbout Star Architecture
Subtitle of host publicationReflecting on Cities in Europe
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9783030239251
ISBN (Print)9783030239244
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Culture-led projects
  • Master plan
  • Star architecture
  • Transnational firms
  • Waterfront regeneration


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