So you’ve seen Recoleta Cemetery and Teatro Colón, big whoop, wanna fight about it? It’s easy to be satisfied just checking the most well known, historic Buenos Aires buildings off the list—they are beautiful after all—but this is a list for those who want to go beyond the surface and get to know a different part of Buenos Aires. If you’re itching to get out of your comfort zone and under the city’s skin, there are lots of bad boy buildings that aren’t on the “typical tourist” radar.
10. La Catedral in Almagro: Upon entering La Catedral, one is struck by the immense space inside the venue; the 12-meter high ceilings, and a wooden dance floor large enough to accompany hundreds of people. Not an architectural wonder in the traditional sense (it’s the skeleton of an old grain silo built in 1880), the building houses a 16-year old tango club, and it deserves some notoriety for being such a creative use of space. It’s a great place to enjoy a bottle of wine one evening, or take a tango lesson; get there early to watch tango newbies stumble around and struggle to learn the steps.
Hours: 18-4 a.m.
9. Faena Hotel in Puerto Madero: Leave it up to a designer/billionaire to turn the skeleton of an abandoned, rat-filled mill into one of the most beautiful five-star hotels in the world. This building is certainly the most decadent on the list, with its dining room adorned with sculpted unicorns, a cabaret, spa, and more. Purchased by designer Alan Faena (for $40 million) and refurbished by designer Phillip Starck, the Faena Hotel has become a destination for the city’s most elite travelers and residents. If you can’t afford to stay there, poke your head in one night and grab a cocktail at the bar, or out by the pool.
Martha Salotti 445
8. El Ateneo Grand Splendid: Books are cool, haven’t you ever seen that John Waters meme? As far as bookstores go, El Ateneo in Recoleta is one of the coolest. Named the second most beautiful bookstore by The Guardian in 2008, El Ateneo opened in 1919 as a theatre that had the capacity to seat more than 1,000 people. It was later converted into a cinema in the 1920s, and a bookstore in 2000. The beautiful building still features most of the ornate design, carvings, and theatre boxes from its original structure. There’s a café in the back, so relax and stay a while. If you’re lucky, you might even be in the right place at the right time to hear some music; occasionally, an 80-something-year old man, rumored to be a veteran employee, stops in, cracks his knuckles and plays some tunes on the grand piano in the foyer.
Avenida Santa Fe 1860
7. Confitería del Molino in Congreso: This beautiful art nouveau-style coffeehouse, opened in 1917, was designed by Italian architect Francisco Gianotti at the request of famous confectioner Cayetano Brenna. The building’s avant-garde appearance is characteristic of the “anti-academic” architecture of art nouveau, a style that abounds in Buenos Aires. It consists of three rooms underground, which housed the city’s intellectual and cultural elite as they drank café, and enjoyed the unmatched desserts crafted by Brenna. The interior is dressed with beautifully ornate wood and marble work. Unfortunately, its doors were closed in 1997, the same year it was declared a national historic monument. Now owned by the Argentine government, it’s rarely open to the public. LandingpadBA’s Man Tour also touches on the building, in between the hattery and straight razor shave.
6. Palacio de Aguas Corrientes: This building is full of crap, well, not literally, but it houses the city’s water management facilities, as well as the Museum of Water and Sanitary History. Designed in 1877 by Swedish Argentine architect Carlos Nyströmer, this French renaissance palace is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. The decadent structure is adorned with thousands of handcrafted terra cotta tiles and features the 14 escutcheons (emblems) representing the provinces of Buenos Aires at the time it was built. Upon close inspection, the craftwork is really something to admire; one marvels at the painstakingly detailed paintings on each emblem and tile and the time it must have taken to create each one. It looks more like a presidential palace than a place that would house the city’s waterworks. Stop by for a look and visit the museum to see how over the years, such a largely populated city has managed to maintain such a clean water supply; surely, a feat in itself.
Corner of Avenida Córdoba y Riobamba
Visiting Hours: Mon-Fri, 9-13:00
5. Hospital Naval at Parque Centenario: One of three buildings designed by Argentine architect Clorindo Testa on the list, the Hospital Naval is considered a popular example of the influence of “brutalist” architecture in Argentina. Brutalist is not derived from the word “brutal” but from the French “béton brut,” or raw concrete. That being said, this building is huge, strange, and looms over the park like a blue stone giant. It was designed by Testa in 1977 and finished in 1982. The building, in some ways reminiscent of a warship (it has round windows that look almost like portholes), occupies an entire block adjacent to Parque Centenario, so stop by on the weekend and you can hit the feria (market) in the park too. It’s a hospital, so it’s open 24/7, but if you go, try not to get in the way of the orderlies.
Av. Patricias Argentinas 351
4. Banco Hipotecario: Another one of Testa’s looming “brutalist” structures designed in 1959 is located in the city’s financial district. Also known as the London Bank, this building is notable for its creative use of urban space; it’s located between two very narrow streets and surrounded by buildings. Testa’s idea was to create a structure that functioned not as a traditional building, but a covered plaza. The bank has three floors below ground level, and six above, and is a marvel to be seen from the tight streets of Micro Centro. To say it merely “sticks out” is an understatement; the building’s unique geometric patterns and thoughtful use of glass and concrete add much to the depth of this impressive structure. If you’re in the area, stop by and gawk at it from across the street, or try to enter and make a deposit.
3. Biblioteca Nacional: Buenos Aires is arguably one of the most important cultural and intellectual hubs of South America, and it’s fitting that one of its most notable buildings is the National Library. Another inventive design by Clorindo Testa, it resembles a spaceship more than a library. Designed in the 1960s, it was not completed until 1992, due to successive changes in government leadership and a host of other factors. The building is unique because it’s structured to contain the book depositories below the reading rooms, which is why it looks more like a mushroom than a traditional building. Another notable characteristic is its location; in the middle of several surrounding parks, which gives it the appearance of floating above the canopy.
Hours: Mon-Fri, 9-21:00
2. El Palacio Barolo: Palacio Barolo was considered the tallest building in South America when it was completed in 1923. Designed by Italian architect Mario Palanti, the building mirrors the cosmology of Dante’s Divine Comedy. It contains 22 floors; the basement and ground floor represent hell; 1-14 purgatory; and 15-22 heaven. The building itself is approximately 100 meters tall, each meter meant to represent a canto of the Divine Comedy. If this doesn’t make it a badass building than I’m not sure what does. From atop its light tower one is treated to one of the best views in the city. Each floor of the building is unique, featuring dreamlike stone inlays and ornate design reminiscent of the renaissance period. Every so often, traces of the poet’s masterpiece appear; carefully placed quotes. The building is a wonderful combination of neo-gothic and neo-Romantic architecture.
Avenida de Mayo 1370
Guided Tours: Mon-Fri at 16, 17, 18 & 19:00 hours; Sat at 15, 16, 17 & 18:00
For more info visit www.palaciobarolotours.com.ar
1. Salamone’s Alberti Buildings: For the brave, the bold, and the adventurous, this number one spot on the list is a little out of the way, but well worth it. (Not in the city of Buenos Aires, but rather in the providence of BA) A little more the two-and-a-half hours outside the city is the municipality of Alberti, a quiet town first settled by mill workers and farmers. Fransisco Salamone is arguably Argentina’s most famous architect and in many ways, Alberti is characteristic of the areas where many of his works are located. He’s known for designing inventive mataderos (slaughterhouses), town halls, and cemeteries, located in La Pampas, the lowlands covering much of the country’s provinces.
Alberti is filled with Salamone’s designs, each is as unique as the other; the town hall displays the simplicity and strong lines so characteristic of art deco style and boasts a tall, ultra-modern looking clock tower, another trademark of Salamone’s town halls. The town is also home to a school, cemetery, and plaza designed by the architect, the latter boasting an extremely unique luminaire. Each one of these structures is descriptive of the architect’s ouvre, but the luminaire really stands out; its strange, globular-like shapes blend together to make an abstraction reminiscent of the motion implied in Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous “Vitruvian Man” sketch, or a design for some type of alien perpetual motion machine.