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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Open House: Understanding the beauty of Buenos Aires

The publishing house at Casa Cavia, which was built in 1927.
The publishing house at Casa Cavia, which was built in 1927.
The publishing house at Casa Cavia, which was built in 1927.
By Veronica Stewart
For the Herald

At the Plaza Hotel, one of the many hotels overlooking Florida Street, the presidential suite has a fully equipped kitchen. “Suites don’t usually have them,” said volunteer María Elena Brusa in a tour of the hotel during Open House Buenos Aires, “but Pavarotti once stayed here and he wanted to make his own food, so a kitchen was added to the room.”

This fun fact speaks of the extravaganzas of the rich and famous, but it also goes a long way in proving one basic thing about architecture: everything about it has a clear reason, from the height of the ceilings to the size of a doorknob in a bathroom. In our eagerness to romanticize our city, we usually talk about Buenos Aires’ beauty as if its buildings where simply works of art we happen to be able to live in.

However, the architects and volunteers giving tours during Open House last weekend did an excellent job of illustrating the practical goals behind every construction, without overlooking the beauty of it all. But what is most interesting about the event is not simply understanding why certain things were built that way, but going around different types of buildings to see just how varied these reasons can be.

The new headquarters of the Government of Buenos Aires, located in Parque Patricios and designed by Norman Foster, is a sort of huge glass box, which allows for natural light to flood the spectacular offices at all times of the day, and for the lights to remain off until sunset, thus making the building more sustainable. It is not made up of separate rooms, but is rather one huge space where bosses and employees work right next to each other: this was designed to foster a sense of cooperation instead of that of a hierarchy.

A similar sense of sustainability was sought in the construction of the building at Olazábal 1961. The apartments have a remarkable space disposition so that walking into one room leads you to the next, which creates a feeling of continuity. This sense was also pursued in buildings such as Casa Scout, the headquarters of the General Antranik group of scouts, where all the furniture is moveable so that the spaces can be integrated. The house has hanging gardens at its windows and thus resembles a sort of tree house, which is in keeping with the spirit of the scouts who foster a strong bond with nature. The feeling pursued in Casa Giribone in Chacarita is that of an open, wide construction, while the building in Húsares 1853 is, in the words of its architect Federico Brancatella, “a piece of postmodern architecture taking advantage of the sight of the gardens built in the entrance of the neighbouring modern building.”

Casa Cavia, built in 1927, today houses a publishing house on its first floor, right above its bookstore in the ground floor. The reason why books hang from the ceiling of the store is more poetic: it is the work of the publishing house right above leaking onto the store. The Teatro El Globo doesn’t have heavy curtains just because: it was built in the French style, and the French saw paleness as a sign of privilege and class.

Everything in this city then has a reason, be it a practical one or a poetic one. Every other day of the year is a good one to walk around it and marvel at its beauty, but Open House offers a chance to go a little more in depth. It is a chance to understand where that beauty comes from and how it came into being and thus appreciate it a little bit more.

@verostewart

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