Bilbao Cruise Terminal: A highly functional modular steel building

The design of this modular building with a bolted steel structure permits its extension as well as its complete dismantling according to future needs. Thanks to a high degree of prefabrication, a short construction phase could be guaranteed. The contrast of the glazed parts of the facade and the black rock wool panels create spectacular light effects.

Detailed information

Architectural design: A sculpture in the bay

As if it were a sculpture, the design began from an orthogonal metal prism being eroded by the constant nearby presence of the Bay of Biscay. This process came to fruition in a building that looks out towards the sea, with a large crenellated glass facade.

To the south, towards the city, the building is much less permeable, framing and enclosing the building’s arrival plaza. From here, the project is collocated and assembled in a series of modules of varying volume and length.

The new Cruise Terminal comprises a single storey, but in section, a series of projections reveal large skylights that capture the northern light.

Drawing on the work of the most internationally renowned Basque sculptors, the architect played with the concepts of substantiality and void, inserting the Terminal programme into one of the modules, retaining the emptiness of the others as various lounges in which to await the vessel.

Await: To remain in a place in anticipation of someone’s arrival or the occurrence of an event.

Different spaces for different forms of waiting were established:

- A large central lounge with top-lighting, from which the sea is visible.
- Small lounges oriented towards the sea and towards the city.
- A lounge with more amenities and privacy.
- A retail space and a small bar.
- Outdoor spaces and terraces.

Externally, the arrival space: the large parking area, where columns of light climb up the building and illuminate it making it a landmark, an urban presence, from the city, at the end of the estuary.  A parking area that will be the receiving area for the passengers who will use buses when leaving or returning to the large floating towns, with capacities ranging between 1500 and 3000 people that make Bilbao their home port and link it by sea to various north European capitals.

The construction: Fast & functional

As regards the construction, because of the need to have the building operating in a short period of time (the first cruise ship arrived 6 months after the competition had been won) industrial construction was adopted, allowing the size of the terminal to be increased or reduced according to the future needs of the Port of Bilbao.

The structural system employs 4-metre wide modules of rolled steel, factory-produced, and assembled on site.  In this way, one achieves very short construction time and very high optimisation of working time since the factory working conditions are not subject to climatic factors, etc.

Rock wool panels were installed as facade cladding, painted black, formed by two steel sheets, the interior sheet being 0.5 mm thick and the exterior sheet being 0.7 mm thick, with a total panel thickness of 80 mm, mounted vertically in 900 mm wide modules fixed to galvanised sheet furring. Some panels have a minimum continuous relief, making the building change colour so as to reflect light throughout the day.

Partitions of 13N-13N / 70 / 13N-13N plasterboard were used, comprising a 13N double layer on each side of the 70 mm steel section, with studding every 400 mm. A smooth finish was chosen for painting and/or tiling. Rockwool internal insulation of 40 mm thick and having a density of 30 kg/m3 was selected.

The roof structure for the modules is made from IPE-160 rolled steel sections and purlins of galvanised steel sheet 2 mm thick are installed transversely at intervals of approximately 600 mm to 1200 mm.

The roof is highly visible from parts of the city and from the decks of the ships arriving at the terminal, so considerable attention was paid to its appearance effectively making it a fifth facade of the building. It was installed as a potential walkable area if this were to be required in the future.

This building is one hundred percent dismantlable and recyclable because it is a bolted metal structure.  It also has a high level of recycled material in its composition, in excess of seventy percent, as the steel used in its construction is produced through the electric-arc route.

Additional information:
Area: 1340 m2
Cost: 2 350 000 EUR

Text: Sergio Baragaño - b_architects (adapted)

Project information

  • Bilbao
  • Spain
  • Architect:
  • March-September 2010
  • Client:
    Port of Bilbao
  • Engineering Firm:
    DeAcero (structure)
  • Contractor:
    Grupo Imasa
  • Photographer:
    ©Mariela Apollonio

Technical details