Buenos Aires architecture
Written by Sorrel Moseley-Williams
Buenos Aires has been built by dozens of migrant nationalities, including the Italians and the English. Bringing architectural styles that are alien to the rest of the continent, their techniques have left a unique stamp on this Latin American capital.
Wandering the streets of Buenos Aires, first-time visitors may be forgiven for thinking they are somewhere other than Argentina’s capital. Looking at the craftsmanship of buildings in this relatively low-rise city, a multicultural history is told through the city’s architecture. From the Renaissance-style Teatro Colón to the contemporary structure of Puente de la Mujer and the cheerful conventillo houses in La Boca, Buenos Aires’ roots can be defined by its vast array of architectural techniques.
Renowned for its fantastic acoustics, the Teatro Colón is one of Buenos Aires’ most important edifices, historically and aesthetically. The 1908 construction of this neo-Renaissance grande-dame was in the hands of three men over 20 years: Francesco Tamburini, who died mid-project; his pupil Vittorio Meano; and the Belgian-born Jules Dormal.
The influence of Dormal, who completed work on this vast 8,200m2 opera house, is most prominent thanks to his use of French neoclassicism in the decoration, but the Colón also incorporates Italian and German techniques, the latter obvious through its solid marble and iron construction. The entrance hall, for example, uses various styles: red-marble columns imported from Verona covered in stucco imitate the Botticino look, while its vitraux ceiling was undertaken by Gaudin of Paris.
Also of note is the outstanding cupola in the main auditorium. Designed in 1966 by Argentine painter Raúl Soldi, he included 50 dancers and mysterious creatures as he wanted to produce “a memory of colours that evoke the magic of this theatre”.
Scraping the sky
Although it was once Latin America’s highest skyscraper, it is the poetic inspiration behind the Palacio Barolo which makes it so remarkable. Located four blocks from Meano’s Congress at Avenida de Mayo 1370, Italian architect Marco Palanti was so stirred by Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy he created his own vision of Purgatory, Hell, and Heaven, indulging neo-Gothic and neo-Romantic techniques, for textile merchant Luis Barolo.
Completed in 1923 as Argentina’s first construction built with reinforced concrete, Barolo is replete with divine references. Purgatory is marked by two basements and the ground floor; the nine arches in the central hall represent the nine circles of Hell, as do floors one to 14; while Heaven soars upward to floor 22 to include the 90m-tall lighthouse, whose powerful beam reaches Montevideo on a clear night. Barolo’s 100m height also represents the 100 cantos of the Divine Comedy, while the 22 floors equal the number of stanzas.
Mark Rebindaine, director of Time Out Buenos Aires, worked on floor 10 for a decade. He says: “When the sun was shining and all was quiet, working in Barolo was as inspirational as Paradise. But on bad days – when lifts stopped or, worse, dropped, or during one of the many cacophonous street demonstrations – it was more akin to Hell.”
Despite so much influence from mainland Europe on display in Buenos Aires, the English, who constructed Argentina’s railways, and the capital’s most important train stations, Retiro and Constitución, have also had some architectural input. Retiro’s steely structure, for example, was built in Liverpool before being shipped and reassembled in the capital in 1915. Also located in front of Retiro is the Palladian-style Big Ben look-alike, the Torre Monumental clock tower, given to Argentina by Britain in honour of its 1910 centenary.
For Richard Townley of Gateway to South America estate agency, one English residential building in particular stands out: La Colorada. Located in Palermo at Cabello 3971, he says: “Designed by Regis Pigeon in 1911, this has an outstanding, unique, and bold architectural style, like an exhibition piece of the English neoclassical style. One of the first buildings in the city to have an ironwork frame, it was lauded by the English at that time with their advanced techniques.”
Buenos Aires isn’t just a tribute to older architectural techniques, however. More contemporary constructions include Alberto Prebisch’s Obelisk, the Puente de la Mujer (Bridge of the Woman), and the weirdly wonderful, solar-powered sculpture Floralis Genérica.
Spanning dike three in Puerto Madero, Zurich-based architect Santiago Calatrava’s remarkable Puente de la Mujer bridge has cantilever spar cable-stays which have an ability to swing open 90˚ coming to rest on a pylon mid-dock when a craft enters the marina. This simple, white, curvaceous foot bridge, donated to the city in 2001 by Alberto L. González, is outstanding for its partial suspension, which, from a distance can be interpreted as a woman’s legs.
However, the true reason it is called the Bridge of the Woman is due to its location in a neighbourhood whose streets are named after prominent Argentine ladies, such as the writer and feminist Juana Manso.
Puerto Madero itself is an area of interest, having undergone a vital regeneration in the past 15 years akin to London’s Docklands. Red-brick warehouses, which previously received goods from Europe, have been converted into fashionable steakhouses, with the most well-known now home to the Faena Hotel + Universe. Designed by Norman Foster, the architect’s firm recently completed El Aleph, another new glass and steel construction for the revamped neighbourhood.
Meanwhile, in Recoleta, a neighbourhood known for its classical French-style apartment blocks, another contemporary and eye-catching construction is the Floralis Genérica sculpture. This 23m-high aluminium-and-steel mechanical flower, designed and gifted to the city by Argentine architect Eduardo Catalano in 2002, opens to flourish with the sunlight then close its petals at nightfall. Firmly rooted at the Plaza de las Naciones Unidas, the extraordinary beauty of this gigantic bloom could only be surpassed by a whole bouquet of Floralis Genérica.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires Design
Specifically built to showcase the most cutting-edge of trends, Buenos Aires Design, located in the heart of Recoleta, is the city’s only mall completely dedicated to interior design. Built in the 1990s a stone’s throw away from the neighbourhood’s cemetery – final resting place of famous presidents and infamous first ladies who took the design and concept of their mausoleum extremely seriously – it makes perfect sense that the one place to pick up one-off pieces, the latest gadgets, and imported goodies is at a custom-made mall located in the capital’s most prestigious area.
Find some living room inspiration from Michael Thonet who produces unique furniture pieces, or pick up a knife set any gaucho would be proud to own from Geo Bazar. When feet are weary and every room back home has been turned on its head, all that remains is to settle down to a rib-eye steak at the spacious outdoor terrace while booking a shipping container.
Lord Alain Levenfiche owns the 14th floor of the Kavanagh Building in Retiro neighbourhood, the apartment which previously belonged to Corina Kavanagh who commissioned the art deco-style building. He says: “I was inspired to buy Buenos Aires’ most emblematic and elegant property because it’s unique, steeped in history, and housed in one of Argentina’s most important national monuments – Edificio Kavanagh.
“Piso 14 offers the ultimate luxury living and lifestyle concept – its immensity and opulence represents a bygone era – it’s the very best of Argentina’s belle époque.
“My incredible apartment offers over 800m2, and every room has luxurious proportions and European-type amenities. Not least, where in Buenos Aires city can you find a property with three huge hanging gardens giving a 360° view over Buenos Aires’ skyline, Plaza San Martín, views of the River Plate, and beyond to Uruguay?” Despite Lord Alain’s love for this legendary property, Piso 14 is for sale (or can be rented) through Mainline Security Estate Management.