The capital of Argentina has been called the Paris of the South in part because of the architecture in Buenos Aires which often channels Beaux-Arts and the French Second Empire styles. As you can see in this post, architecture in Buenos Aires also goes well beyond classic French styles and many stately and storied buildings line the streets of Buenos Aires–some in pristine condition, others crumbling. Here’s a look at architecture in Buenos Aires.
Architecture in Buenos Aires
Buildings completed in Buenos Aires between the 1870s and the early 1900s, when French architectural styles were all the rage, coincided with a boom that gave Argentina the 10th largest economy in the world (similar to that of France and Germany at the time). Flush with growth and style, the people of Buenos Aires were intent on showing the world that they lived in a modern and sophisticated city and world-class architecture was (and is) part of that identity.Giant residential mansions, dating to the late 1800s and early 1900s, can still be seen in neighborhoods like Recoleta and Palermo. Many of the remaining grand residences have been turned into museums or embassies, including the Palacio Ortiz Basualdo (pictured above) which is now the French Embassy in Buenos Aires. Grand classic French architecture can be seen throughout the center of Buenos Aires including the Centro Naval Naval Officers Club (above left) which was inaugurated in 1914 in a Beaux-Arts style with an art nouveau entrance, and the Gath & Chaves Annex (above right), an enormous and ornate shopping complex that opened in the 1890s. Completed in 1909, Palacio San Martin was a Beaux-Arts mansion. Now it’s the ceremonial headquarters for the Ministry of Foreign Relations. The stately Palace of the Argentine National Congress (Palacio del Congreso de la Nación Argentina, Palacio del Congreso, or just El Congreso in Spanish) grabs your attention with columns, an imposing dome, and carved ornamentation. If it conjures images of the US Capitol building, that’s because the design of this structure was inspired by it. Located on the edge of the Monserrat neighborhood, which is also sometimes called the Congreso area, the neoclassical Argentina National Congress building was completed in 1906 and is now a National Historic Monument. Fun fact: the Congressional Plaza, next to the Congress building, is officially kilometer zero for all of the national highways in Argentina. The Cabildo of Buenos Aires was first proposed in 1580 but this Spanish colonial administrative center (essentially, a City Hall) was not completed until 1610. Over the years, the structure has been changed, expanded, and reduced (parts of the building were demolished to make way for city avenues). Today this historic building is home to the Museo Nacional del Cabildo de Buenos Aires y de la Revolucion de Mayo (National Historical Museum of the Cabildo and the May Revolution) where you can see artifacts (including documents, paintings, clothing, and more) from Spanish colonial occupation and from the revolution against Spanish rule. Photographers: visit the balcony for a great perspective over Plaza de Mayo. The Casa Rosada is home to the Executive Branch of the Argentine government, including the office of the President of Argentina. The distinctly pink building, which is a National Historic Monument, is full of grand ornamental elements like a staircase from France, a different staircase from Italy, mahogany furniture, stained glass, bronze chandeliers, and the Casa Rosada Presidential Museum which was closed when we visited. The second-floor portico on the left (behind the lamp post) is known as the Evita Balcony because this is where Juan and Eva “Evita” Perón addressed the masses during the late 1940s and early 1950s. The Teatro Colon (Colon Theater) opera house is one of the most well-known sources of cultural and architectural pride in the city. After 20 years of construction, it originally opened in 1857 with a performance of Verde’s Aida. The theater was then rebuilt and re-opened in 1908. Today, it’s the largest auditorium in South America with a capacity of 2,500 seated and another 500 standing. Guided tours in English and Spanish reveal insights about materials (exotic woods and lots of marble), techniques (stained glass and mosaic floors), and architectural styles (at least three). First planned in 1889, the Palacio de Correos (Buenos Aires Central Post Office) didn’t open until 1928. Now this former post office, just off Plaza de Mayo, is the Centro Cultural Kirchner offering free cultural activities, art exhibits, classes, performances, and more (reservations are required for some activities). When it was completed in 1936, the Art Deco Kavanagh Building was the tallest building in Latin America and the tallest building in the world with a reinforced concrete structure. It’s still an angular standout in the city skyline. The historic Mercado de Abasto (Abasto Market) served as a bustling fruit and vegetable market from 1893 to 1984 when the city’s central market facilities were moved. The building was abandoned for a time before being reborn as the largest shopping mall in Buenos Aires. Among the more than 200 stores is the only Kosher McDonald’s outside of Israel. But the real reason to visit this building, in the Once area of the city, is to admire its Art Deco architecture and massive facade with leaded windows. The Sarmiento Palace was completed in 1888 in the Second Empire architectural style. Today the imposing structure is home to the Ministry of Education. The Palacio Aguas Corrientes (Palace of Running Waters) was built as the city’s water pumping station and was completed in 1894. More than 300,000 glazed tiles and enameled bricks, shipped from England and Belgium, cover the facade. The structure is now home to the Museo del Agua y de la Historia Sanitaria with displays of old tiles, faucets, bidets, and pipes as well as the giant original water tanks and pumps (reservations required). For modern highrise architecture and design, head to the Puerto Madero area of the city where you’ll find apartment towers and the Puente de la Mujer (Women’s Bridge). Designed by Santiago Calatrava, the soaring and sparkling white bridge, which was unveiled in 2001, is lovely. The massive Retiro Station was completed in 1915 and was designed by British architects and engineers who were primarily responsible for creating what was, at that time, the 10th largest rail system in the world. Iconic monuments in Buenos Aires also offer moments of architectural beauty including the Obelisco (Obelisk, above left), which was built in 1936 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the founding of the city, and Torre Monumental (Monumental Tower, above right) which was built in 1916. Even if you’re not hungry or thirsty, pop into historic Cafe Tortoni which is the oldest cafe in Buenos Aires. Opened in 1858, the cafe oozes atmosphere with stained glass, columns, and decorative woodwork and there are spaces for billiards, dominoes, and dice games plus a stage for jazz performances. Famous visitors at this cafe, which is part of the city’s elite and historic Bares Notables (Notable Bars) group, include a long list of Argentinean politicians plus Albert Einstein, Francis Ford Coppola, Katy Perry, Patti Smith, and Hillary Clinton. Farmacia La Estrella (Star Pharmacy) was opened in 1895. Now part of the Museum of the City, the place still operates as a pharmacy. Religious buildings represent more opportunities for appreciating architecture in Buenos Aires including (clockwise from top left) the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral, the Synagogue of the Israelite Argentine Congregation, Saint Ignatius’ Church, the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity, and the Inmaculada Concepción parish (La Redonda). When work was completed on the Palacio Barolo in 1923, it was the tallest building in Latin America and the tallest reinforced concrete building in the world. The building was conceived by Luis Barolo who hired architect Mario Palanti to bring Dante Alighieri’s poem “The Divine Comedy” to life in architectural form. Heaven, hell, and purgatory are all represented in the structure. Today, this building is home to offices and one of the most unusual tours in Buenos Aires and one of the best for architecture lovers. The Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA) was completed in 2001 in a thoroughly modern style that matches its thoroughly modern collection. This Neoclassical building dates back to 1949 and is home to the Facultad de Derecho (Law School) at the University of Buenos Aires, the largest university in Argentina. Among the notable things about the Ministry of Public Works building, which was completed in 1936, are the two large depictions of Eva “Evita” Peron on its sides. There’s a full-blown race track in the middle of Buenos Aires. It’s called the Hipodromo Argentina de Palermo and it was founded in 1876. It’s been expanded and changed over the years, but its Beaux-Arts grandstand, built in 1908, remains. Casa Minima, in the historic San Telmo neighborhood, is the narrowest building in Buenos Aires at just 10.7 feet (3.27 meters) at its widest point. You may not think about visiting a cemetery to see architecture, but the Recoleta Cemetery is no ordinary final resting place. Here you’ll find nearly 4,700 ornate mausoleums, vaults, and crypts designed in a variety of styles to house the remains of some of the most famous politicians, artists, actors, and Nobel Prize winners in Argentina. You won’t find this building in any coffee table books about architecture in Buenos Aires, but this mini Chrysler Building adorning an otherwise unremarkable restaurant in Buenos Aires gave us a good laugh.
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