Glass version of a crushed tin can … the Basque health department building in Bilbao. Photograph: EFE/Luis Tejido

Its gleaming, angular facade makes it look – at a glance – like an enormous, glass version of a mangled tin can. But, as it prepares to open next month, this reflective giant could be about to displace the Guggenheim Museum as Bilbao’s main tourist attraction.

Visitors to the Basque city are taking time out to make the 10-minute walk from Frank Gehry’s emblematic building to take in not an art museum, but rather the distinctly less glamorous headquarters of the Basque health department.

According to the Spanish architects, Juan Coll-Barreu and Daniel Gutiérrez Zarza, the chiselled glass front of the 13-storey, 8,000 sq metre (86,000 sq ft) building was designed to reflect the moving panorama of the sky. The €12m (£9.6m) project has aroused controversy in Bilbao, with opinion divided over whether it is an expensive gimmick or a marvel to rival the Guggenheim.

Coll-Barreu said: “With this design we were just trying to resolve a problem which [the authorities] presented us with.

“Is it going to be the new Guggenheim? I could not say. But according to the local press it is the most photographed building in the city.”

Gehry’s building transformed the drab Basque industrial capital and put it on the tourist trail. Other cities have since tried to attain the “Guggenheim effect” with similar creations, some by the Canadian architect. Teresa Abajo, a journalist at the Bilbao daily El Correo, said: “I don’t think it is going to be the new Guggenheim, but it has been controversial. Some people like it and some people hate it. I think it is great.”

Graham Keeley