Basque Health Department Headquarters in Bilbao / Coll-Barreu Arquitectos

Architects: Coll-Barreu Arquitectos – Juan Coll-Barreu & Daniel Gutiérrez Zarza
Location: Bilbao,
Collaborators: Fernando de la Maza, Jorge Bilbao, Pablo Castro, Gorka García
Project year: 2003-2004
Construction year: 2004-2008
Constructed area: 9,200 sqm
Budget: 12,935,436 EURO (US $17,9M)
Structure: Mintegia y Bilbao
Electrical Consultant: ndotec
Safety: Tesysal
Photographs: Aleix Bagué

The lot locates in the crossroad of the two most important streets of the Ensanche (1862) in Bilbao. The restrictive city zoning rules force to repeat the existing building typology, reducing penthousing, chamfering corners and rising a tower. The building groups together vertical communications and general services within a bone, a prism next to the dividing wall that serves to seven open-plan floors for offices. Above these, there are two more level for institutional and representative uses. The meeting room are placed at the top of the building, into the tower. By the contrary, the Auditory and its services rooms are in the cellar. Under all of this level exist three more floors used just for employees parking.

A double facade solves not only zoning rules requirements but also energetic, fire-resistant and acoustic insulation ones. This duplicated plane is not just a wrapper but a volume between Bilbao and the inner space. This element allows to breath the building.

In the other hand, that folded element produces multiple views of the city, and changing its appearance depending on the point of view , the hour and the season. The objective of this element is introduce the mutability, the dynamic spirit of the city.

Cite: "Basque Health Department Headquarters in Bilbao / Coll-Barreu Arquitectos" 03 Oct 2008. ArchDaily. Accessed 25 May 2015. <>
  • Calvin

    really wish the facade’s design went through the building, inside seems too normal

  • Evan Jones

    At first I hated it. (Am I just cranky and old?) In fact, the bump on top I’m still not sure about. But, then I saw the night shot with the building peeking through. It started to make sense. Perhaps not taking Calvin’s criticism was part of the plan: the surprise that something normal is contained.

  • Hiroshi

    I agree with Calvin. The building’s not very consistent through and through, but the night shot is pretty cool. I like it situated next to that old building.

  • claude mallia

    cummon, is this the future of architecture!
    reminds me of the Prince’s carbuncle , only that i think this one turned really sore!

  • yrag

    In isolation I don’t love or hate the aesthetics, however in relation to the buildings that I see around it, the Coll-Barreu Arquitectos structure seems like an assault. I think a truly gifted architect can and should be able to be creative and innovative without declaring war on it’s neighbors.

  • freq

    makes one wonder how this building performs enrgetically as well as in terms of resources used vs. benefits achieved.

    “A double facade solves not only zoning rules requirements but also energetic, fire-resistant and acoustic insulation ones. This duplicated plane is not just a wrapper but a volume between Bilbao and the inner space. This element allows to breath the building.”

    uh huh, so it does all that, yes? it appears to me that there is no way to open the outer layer, which is not a problem per se but dubious as why not to do it on a building of such limited height – interaction with the outside, anyone? and how do they get rid of excessive solar gains? granted, there might be some sort of furnace effect inbetween layers, but AC is the primary means of env. control, yes? what a wasted opportunity.

    the text quoted above is nothing but a senseless blurb to mask the actually quite shameless waste of resources used to create a building that takes itself as so important it’s almost funny.

  • Simon

    I have to agree the facade is just that. I would like to have seen it correspond and influence the structural system more within the building. Beam’s and column’s on a grid are wrong.

  • MKK

    Love it.

    The contrast between the busy exterior and restrained orthogonal interior spaces is what makes it work well. A busy internal composition would just be obvious.

    Facade looks like it has a fair amount of ventilation to me.

  • Elizier

    This is interesting, it looks to me like the architects intended on this arguable design for that very purpose, to treat the passers-by who look at all the surrounding buildings, that are congruent to each other, to an aesthetic adrenaline rush.

    This would be more of an artistic piece than it would be a practical one.

    But i have to agree with yrag, the design could have been less aggressive. That pillar that shoots out at the top makes the entire structure so dominating.

    I agree with the idea, the execution, not so much.

  • JC

    Loving this. The wireframe structure is just so beautiful.

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  • sullka

    beautiful, specially the night pics.

    Now, this is what “starchitects” should be doing, Saha, Gehry…take notes on this one.

    My only comment, not really a critic, is that the main entrance could have been better, not just 2 regular glass doors.

  • vollmad

    it’s a shame the interior spaces don’t profit from the cristalline geometry, is architecture nowadays only about designing cool “shells” with nothing inside?

  • kirma eleme

    wow . . . it’s amazing . . .

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  • yeoman

    I’m from the UK, and there has been an awful trend for many years.


    Lazy architects and town planners have allowed villages to grow into towns using faux-goergian architecture, the only symbolisation that that represents is lies, untruths, which to be honest is a fair representation of local authorities.

    I would love to see unique and thought provoking design, such as this being brought to housing as well as office complexes, there is so much great design out there, yet they are still building lies.

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  • Tarek sakkal


  • arch student from WI

    Too bad we didn’t sneak up in it when we had the chance…and only one floor was lit up when we went there at night, and not for long at that. Besides that, it was pretty cool.

  • the uninformed observer

    Seems a (rarely) complete natural in its setting. I enjoy the facade-ness that comes to mind in particular here as it informs its beaux-arte neighbors of their own, facades. The plain and horizontal restraint chosen as interior are half of the brilliant equation framing the view out- massive joy. Great work, thank you.

  • ygogolak

    They don’t require handrails in Spain?

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