In Sprawling Buenos Aires, Historic Architecture Lives On

Modern Buenos Aires can overwhelm much of its vintage architecture, but like tough old weeds, certain significant buildings have been able to survive or find new life.

Buenos Aires' Luis Mario Campo hotel
Buenos Aires' Luis Mario Campo hotel
Berto Gonzalez Montaner

BUENOS AIRES — The modern city of Buenos Aires is advancing relentlessly as multiple mechanisms engineer its growth. Like lava, it can engulf old construction, though it can also clone buildings, which multiply to cover one or several blocks. In the best cases, there is repair, recycling and substitution of aging infrastructure that is crucial to the fabric of the city.

Until recently, a garden in front of the neo-classical Italian Club beautifully framed and provided a perspective onto the old building. But in recent years, giant shopping centers gobbled that up.

Buenos Aires skyline — Photo: Luis Argerich

In the same district, mere meters from a statue of El Cid, sits what may be the oldest house in the district of Caballito. Built in 1864, it was the home of Jerónimo Podestá, the controversial Bishop of Avellaneda who lived there with his wife, Clelio Luro. The Latin American Federation of Married Priests was formed there.

Little is visible from outside the house, on 1367 Avenida Gaona. Visitors must cross a plush garden to find the building's columned porch. The city parliament classified the house as a place of cultural interest in 2004, and the bishop's step-daughter says it is to become a museum and place of “philosophical, religious and social” reflection.

There must be thousands of buildings like this quietly sitting in the shadow of a city that is restlessly sprawling. Consider the Palacio Roccatagliata, and the housing project taking shape over the early 20th century building between Ricardo Balbín and Roosevelt avenues. The owners of the emblematic Confitería del Molino used to live here. Now some investors are building luxury flats here, though the city courts have ordered it stopped for the time being.

The old and the young in Buenos Aires — Photo: Jenny Mealing

The architects want to create an L-shaped building that would cover two corners, and “nurse” the old palace inside its grounds. Conceptually, it seems perfect. One of the wings of the new building, 13 floors high, provides a reasonable and adequate cover for its street corner. But the other wing, which is twice as high, seems disproportionate.

There is also repair work going on. Once-worthless old buildings are taking revenge. There is, for example, a grey, abandoned warehouse at the heart of a block in Old Palermo. Artist and therapist Diana Schufer has turned it into a studio residence with a long corridor and a courtyard filled with plants and beautiful aromas. The old warehouse has become both her home and — every Friday and Saturday, with the help of her friend Olga Martínez — a magnificent art gallery.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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