Having settled on the method of construction, the challenge for the architect then was to use this approach to design a building that would not be boring and boxy, and that would convey the excitement of travel. It did this by creating a number of rectangular volumes, and sliding them past each other, rather in the way that a ship slides alongside its mooring. In addition, it created two very different faces to the building – a very open north side, facing the sea, and a much more closed south-facing side, looking towards the city. In the initial design, there was a second storey, with roof lights, but this was reduced during the development stage to some double-height elements with clerestory windows introducing additional light at high level.

The elements were prefabricated as steel boxes, their dimensions set by what could be transported by road. They were made in Gijon and are clad in insulated panels manufactured in Austria, with a painted metal surface. The architect initially specified that these should be black, but the port authority was not keen, and eventually the team settled on a very dark but less definable colour, a kind of mix of black and brown and grey. The clearly defined section lines between the panels add a simple, pleasing vertical rhythm which is echoed by the mullions of the glazing.

Internally, the finishes are simple, largely white but with some elements of the dark panelling running through, defining functions such as the toilets. By travelling through the building, they add to the sense of movement, as this is a building where almost everybody is in transition, most of them fairly rapidly, moving from the ship to the city and later from the city back to the ship.

By using prefabrication, the architect fulfilled its immediate brief. But there were also longer term advantages. Almost as soon as the building was ‘complete’ the architect was asked to add extra elements to enlarge the capacity. Baragaño still hopes that at some stage the port will ask it to extend the building upwards, to provide two levels of accommodation. But equally he believes that the building would continue to function well if some elements needed to be removed, to make room for other facilities, or even if the whole facility needs to be moved to another part of the site.

It is not difficult to guess the prefabricated nature of this building, but its clever play with space and void, its dual levels and occasional overhangs give it a sophistication that is pleasing. And while the architect felt that it had to compromise on the cladding colour, there is something about its indeterminate nature that adds a greater depth to the appearance. Cruise passengers eager to enjoy Bilbao may wish to spend as little time in this building as possible, but it will provide them with a simple and elegant introduction to the city.

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