Throughout the 20th century, several factors contributed to Buenos Aires’s architectural significance. In the early decades of the century, when Buenos Aires was the capital of one of the wealthiest countries in the world, architects were commissioned to design luxurious residences and institutional buildings, many influenced by French and Italian styles. Later, different immigrant groups looking for status constructed important examples that followed European traits of Viennese secession, Italian liberty, and Catalan modernism. The rationalist architecture of the early 1930s and 1940s in Buenos Aires is one the most significant of the world. This era of architecture greatly influenced the present profile of the city. Also relevant are the examples of Brutalist architecture. The last decades of the century have been characterized by an interest in preserving this rich architectural heritage and by new architectural interventions related to the existing urban fabric.
Buenos Aires is situated by the estuary of the Rio de la Plata and the plains. The city became a federal district in 1880 and since then has gained more political, financial, and administrative power. In 1910 the mayor, Torcuato de Alvear, inspired by the Beaux-Arts influence and the Parisian example of Baron von Haussmann in the 1850s, provided the city with a framework of avenues, plazas, and parks.
n the early 20th century, the city consisted of a basic infrastructure of institutional buildings and magnificent private residences following Italian academic styles. Carlos Morra designed the former National Library (1901) and Victor Meano and Julio Dormal the Colon Theater (1908). Later, French influence dominated the city. Alexander Christophersen designed the Anchorena Palace (1909; today the Palace of Foreign Affairs). The Frenchman René Sergent designed three large residences, among them the Errazuriz Palace (1911). Utilitarian architecture followed English influence. Retiro (1914), the major train station, was designed by Conder, Conder, Farmer, and Follet, with the metallic structure produced by Morton and Co. in Liverpool. The opening of avenues such as May Avenue and North Diagonal completed a scheme that transformed Buenos Aires into the “Paris of South America.”
In the 1920s, academic dominance was affected by two other tendencies, namely the importation of European-derived Art Nouveau and the reemergence of pride in the Spanish heritage and the Ibero-American roots of the city. Immigrants who found a taste of economic power sought expressions for their new status. Italians such as Mario Palenti, who designed Pasaje Barolo (1923), expressed this reaction against academic architecture; Joaquín García Núñez designed for the Spanish colony; and Martin Noel designed a residence that today houses the Museum Fernandez Blanco (1916), a neo- Colonial building with Spanish decoration and details. Also inspired by the Spanish High Renaissance is the Cervantes Theater (1921) by Aranda and Repetto. In the 1920s, Art Deco challenged the preference for traditional academic architecture. Deco details were linked to modern buildings: cinemas, parking garages, banks, and apartments. An important representative of this tendency is Alejandro Virasoro, who designed the House of Theater (1927), the Santander Bank (1926), and the Equitativa del Plata (1929).
Le Corbusier visited Buenos Aires in 1929 and gave a series of ten lectures, the most comprehensive of his career. Werner Hegemann followed him in 1931. Although both spoke of a harmonious synthesis, they offered different approaches to resolve the problems of the growing metropolis. Le Corbusier’s influence was felt a decade later with the creation of the Austral Group and with the Plan for Buenos Aires (1938, in collaboration with Ferrari Hardoy and Kurchan). His enduring influence was felt also in many Brutalist projects in the following decades.
As a result of his visit, Le Corbusier was inspired by the gigantic landscape and wrote hisbook,Precisionsofthe PresentStateofArchitectureandCityPlanning (1930).Similarly,Hegemann’sideasinfluencedtheurbanistCarlosdella Paolera and some projects by Jorge Kalnay.
Several factors, such as the academic influence, the Beaux-Arts model for the education of the architect, the German-language influence, and the Art Deco materials and detail, generated a series of buildings between the late 1930s and 1940s that has been characterized as part of the “School of Buenos Aires.” At this time, major avenues helped define the city as a metropolis—Corrientes, Santa Fe, 9 de Julio, and General Paz—and the city acquired a more cosmopolitan atmosphere.
Alejandro Bustillo was the architect of the first modernist building of Buenos Aires, Maison Ocampo (1929). Yet, showing the eclectic nature of the time, he later developed a classical language, as in the headquarters of the Argentinean Central Bank (1939). Two important buildings are the COMEGA (1932) by Alfredo Joselevich and Enrique Douillet and the SAFICO (1934) by Walter Moll. By the early 1940s, modernism triumphed as the dominant style. The Kavanagh Apartment Building (1936) by Sánchez, Lagos and de la Torre, for example, evinces an extraordinary modernist silhouette within the urban landscape. This 30-story building won an Award of the American Society of Engineering (1994). Moreover, the Grand Rex Cinema (1937) by Alberto Prebish exhibits purist modern lines and architectural economy, and his Obelisk (1936), located at the intersection of three major avenues, remains a landmark and symbol of the city.
The apartments of Libertador and Lafinur (1937) by Sánchez, Lagos and de la Torre constituted a signpost of modern architecture in Argentina. The ateliers of Suipacha and Paraguay (1938) by Antonio Bonet, Vera Barros, and Lopez Chas suggest the flexibility, open plan, and experimentation with material but also mark one the first buildings to be distanced from orthodox rationalism in Buenos Aires.
Antonio Ubaldo Vilar produced works combining functionality and a pure formal language, namely the Central Headquarters (1943) of the Automobile Club of Argentina. With the arrival of Peron (1946–52 and 1952–55), industrialization and legislation to improve social conditions marked a new period in Buenos Aires. The city attracted immigrants from the interior of the country, requiring the populist regime to provide large housing complexes and infrastructure as well as buildings to meet needs for health care, education, and recreation.
At the middle of the century, Amancio Williams designed an unrealized proposal (1945) for an airport for the city designed to stand over the river on immense Le Corbusian pilotis. The study of the Regulatory Plan for the city (1947–49), done by Kurchan and Hardoy in collaboration with Le Corbusier, marks the Modern movement’s maturity.
The most important work of the 1950s is the Theater General San Martin (1953–60)- by Mario Roberto Alvarez and Macedonio Ruiz and, connected to it, the Cultural Center San Martin (1960–64) by Alvarez and Associates. Detailed with refinement and quality of materials, this building denotes the influences of the International Style.
In the 1960s, the work of Clorindo Testa, as in the Bank of London (1966), indicates a significant turning point in the city’s architecture. Aesthetically derived from Le Corbusier’s principles of reductivism and lack of ornamentation, the bank’s exterior reflects the Brutalist use of concrete for rationalist ends. The Headquarters of the Bank of the City of Buenos Aires (1967) by Manteola, Sánchez Gómez, Santos, Solsona, and Viñoly is also significant: a box of glass bricks framed by a metallic structure, it was one of the first examples of recycled architecture in Buenos Aires.
A significant building of the 1970s is the ATC Argentina Televisora Color (1978) by Manteola, Sánchez Gómez, Santos, Solsona, and Viñoly, associated with Salaberry and Tarsitano, a landmark in the urban landscape. The National Library (contest won in 1962, construction began in 1972, and completed in 1992) by Testa, Bulrich, and Cazzaniga was remarkable for its underground storage of books and sculptured and elevated reading areas. Also characteristic of this period is the work of Jorge Roberto Alvarez and Associates, who produced works known for their durability, order, and asceticism. Among their buildings, SOMISA (1975) met a technological challenge to design all the building’s parts within a tolerance of three millimeters.
In 1972 Catalinas Norte, in the Retiro area, began again to incorporate the river into the life of the city. The Conurban building (1973) by the Kocourek studio with Katzenstein and Llorens uses a curtain wall in the facade facing the river and brick in the facade looking to the city and is one of the best of the whole complex.
The Cultural Center (1980) in the Recoleta area by Bedel, Benedit, and Testa, a recycled Franciscan monastery, is today an active popular center of contemporary art, experimental art galleries, and shops. The complex was completed with the more whimsical Buenos Aires Design Center (1994) by Testa, Genoud, and Graci.
Since 1991 the Madero docks area (built in 1887–97) has been rehabilitated in one of the most successful urban interventions in the city’s recent history. The utilitarian buildings of the dock have been recycled as apartments, restaurants, and shops as a natural extension of the center of the city. Several new towers have changed the profile of the city’s skyline. The twin towers (1997) of High Palermo Plaza by Urgell, Fazio, and Penedo and the studio of Sanchez Gomez, Manteola, and Santos Solsona present an urban doorway to the Palermo area, enlivened by the Postmodernist and ornamental Alto Palermo Shopping (1990) by Juan Lopez.
Buenos Aires enters the 21st century immersed in the revolutionary changes in technology and the process of globalization. The city has successfully implemented new programs to recuperate areas of the city, open the city to its river, and rehabilitate buildings in Mayo, Rivadavia, and Corrientes Avenues. In addition, historical neighborhoods, such as San Telmo and Monserrat, have begun to be rebuilt. All these actions indicate that Buenos Aires is as interested in preserving its past as it is in constructing its future. The city, once called the “Paris of South America,” is still recognized for its European heritage and remains one of the great metropolises of the world.
Sennott R.S. Encyclopedia of twentieth century architecture, Vol.1 (A-F). Fitzroy Dearborn., 2005.