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 — 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.
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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.
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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.