In recent years cultural buildings have proliferated widely as keystones within strategies of urban development and regeneration. Architecturally, from both a performative and historical dimension, there is a consistent attempt to deal with these buildings as distinctive urban artefacts and as original formal configurations. Ever since the completion of Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum (1997), professional publications and mass media have been celebrating its pioneering architecture, to the extent that the neologism Bilbao effect has become commonplace both as a technical term and as an urban ambition.Against this legacy, this paper will argue that the architectural urbanism of cultural buildings is riddled with a latent contradiction. Whilst their architecture exhibits a dynamic tendency for formal experimentation, their urbanism is statically confined to a spatial strategy pursuing extravagant icons in search of dominant urban scenes. From this perspective, and against the prevailing understanding, Bilbao's Guggenheim exemplifies this conservative strategy. By extension and contrast, and notwithstanding their emergence several decades ago, Berlin's New National Gallery, Sao Paulo's Art Museum and London's National Theatre are investigated as instances of strategically different dispositions which have achieved innovative - and yet still under-examined - results through their typological articulation. The essay concludes by speculating on the sources of the aforementioned contradiction, as well as by exploring San Sebastian's San Telmo Museum as a recent project that has built upon the achievements of these counter cases.