Buenos Aires Architecture: A Quick Guide

Gringo in Buenos AiresArchitecture15 Comments

Do you have a favorite building in Buenos Aires? Mine is the one on the corner of Belgrano and Perú in San Telmo (see a picture of it here). The bottom two floors are nothing special – just roller doors that are always closed and then a set of shuttered windows – but on the third floor there appear a series of giant stone men who are carved so that they seem to be supporting the floors above on their shoulders. Then there are five or six floors of pretty balconies, and then it gets really wacky: three or four more levels built into a steeply sloping tiled roof topped by a pair of cupolas. It’s brilliant.

The architecture in Buenos Aires is easy to love. But how did it get that way?

Argentine Architectural Influences

The classical buildings in Buenos Aires are a mix of styles (particularly French and Italian), as you would expect in a city of immigrants. Many of them were built during the boom years of 1880 to 1920, which means that many of them are built in the neoclassical style that was popular around the world at that time (for reference ,the textbook example of this style of architecture is Washington, DC).

Around the microcentro and along the grand Avenida de Mayo between Plaza de Mayo and Plaza del Congreso there are many, many examples of neoclassical architecture. They include the National Congress, the Governor’s Palace, Teatro Colón and the Galerias Pacifico. The ancient-Greek-temple-inspired buildings such as the Cathedral Metropolitana on Plaza de Mayo and the University of Buenos Aires Law School are other exponents of the neoclassical style.

Often the most interesting details of the neoclassical buildings in Buenos Aires are seven or eight stories off the ground. Gargoyles, statues, cupolas, scrollwork and other flourishes adorn their upper extremities, giving you a lot of reasons to look up…which is pretty dangerous when you consider the state of the sidewalks!

Of course the architecture in Buenos Aires isn’t all classical. There are art nouveau and art deco buildings too, dilapidated colonial houses in San Telmo, colorful shacks around La Boca’s Caminito and gleaming towers in Puerto Madero. They’re all part of the mix (though in the case of Puerto Madero, a considerably less interesting part!), and altogether it’s a heady combination that could keep even a lifetime resident of Buenos Aires interested and intrigued.

Five of the best

Here are some of the best buildings in Buenos Aires, in the humble opinion of the author:

Teatro Colón (Cerrito 618)

The grand opera house Teatro Colón is a Buenos Aires icon. It was built in 1908 and is considered one of five best opera houses in the world for acoustics. It’s built in the Italian style with some French decorations, and both inside and out it’s gorgeous. Most expats currently living in Buenos Aires won’t have seen inside Teatro Colón as it has been closed for refurbishments since 2006. It’s slated to reopen in May 2010 however.

Palacio Barolo (Avenida De Mayo 1370)

A great building with a whacky story behind it. Luis Barolo was a European immigrant who arrived in Argentina in 1890.At that time there was a widespread belief in Argentina that a succession of wars in Europe were going to utterly destroy it, and Luis was determined to save a part of it. And if all of Europe were to be engulfed in flames, what was the most important thing to save? Why the remains of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri; the author of the ‘The Divine Comedy’ who died in 1321, of course (obvious really). What a nutter. Anyway, the building is amazing, you can do guided tours and the views from the top offer an unmatched aerial view of the city.

Edificio Kavanagh (Florida 1065)

For a time the tallest building in South America, Edificio Kavanagh was the pet project of Corina Kavanagh and she lived in an apartment in the building for many years. It’s located in the barrio of Retiro, overlooks the Plaza San Martín, and is reminiscent of an art deco style American skyscraper.

Confitería Del Molino (Corner of Callao and Rivadavia)

Confitería Del Molino stands out immediately for its grand turret complete with windmill sails (whacky, no?). It’s an art nouveau style coffeehouse that was built in 1917 by Francisco Gianotti, who also designed the art nouveau Galería Güemes. Unfortunately Confitería Del Molino has been closed now for many years, but you can admire the outside from the Plaza del Congreso.

Palacio de Aguas Corrientes

The fabulous Palacio de Aguas Corrientes (literally ‘the palace of running water’) was built in the late 1800s. It occupies an entire city block between the streets of Cordoba, Riobamba, Viamonte and Ayacucho. Its surroundings are shabby, but the building itself is a French renaissance palace covered in 300,000 glazed, multi-color terracotta tiles. It was built as a water pumping station, which is a little bizarre, because for something with such a functional purpose it’s utterly beautiful.