One of the most fascinating Palaces in Buenos Aires was designed to store drinking water

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An impressive building inside and out, with French ceilings and English (Royal Doulton) and Belgian ceramics on the outside. Shields and crests adorn it everywhere, “Cuadritos” with flowers. Marble everywhere inside, huge iron beams and massive water tanks for more than 72 million litres of drinking water. Everything has been done in a very grand way. One wonders why would a small city spend all this money on water tanks. Well, the location, needed to feed the cities water supply by gravity and was an elevated position in the middle of a then affluent suburb which objected to the original idea of basic tanks in the middle of their neighbourhood. The solution was this masterpiece of engineering to blend in with the neighbours.

Knowing all this is enough to make you want to visit the Palacio de Aguas Corrientes, inaugurated in 1894, situated at 1900 Córdoba, in the center of the city of Buenos Aires.

The building is still very original with lots of hidden treasures like the secret library full of 100 yr old books.

Cálida. la Biblioteca, entre roble y desniveles. / Gentileza Biblioteca Agustín González

The library is called Ingeniero Agustín González. It is enormous, where books of influence, materials, colours and textures are all arranged in a unique way. It is overwhelming.

The Palace was built between 1887-94 to provide clean drinking water to the local and surrounding communities, after devastating epidemics. The most remembered is the one of yellow fever of 1871 since it killed 8% of the population (about 14,000) and generated key changes, among them, that would cause much of the population to move from the south (Barracas ) to the north of Capital (Recoleta). But not before more epidemics of cholera (1867) and the typhoid fever (1869), among others, claimed more lives.

An English engineer called John Bateman designed the palace and was built under the magnifying glass of his Swedish counterpart Carlos Nyströmer and the Norwegian architect Olof Boye, with a mix of European influences. Some other specialists were used to emphasize the stateliness of the second French empire. Others, the great Victorian fantasy by the painting of the facades.

Una de las ventanas del Palacio de Aguas Corrientes. / Juan José Traverso

They imported from Belgium the iron and the roofs from France, the external walls, hyper-decorated, are also imported. Celebrity craftsman like Juan B. Médici used more than 130,000 enamelled bricks and 300,000 ceramic pieces imported from England and Belgium.

It seems incomprehensible today but here they are. But something is always new to be discovered in this palace.

The interior of the Palace was designed with walls up to 1.8 mtrs of brick and 180 columns contain 12 huge water tanks built of local bricks from San Isidro. Today the space is used as offices and the  Museo del Agua y la Historia Sanitaria

There is also the Library, a world apart. Sober. Bright. It is imposing with 15,000 books and journals specialized in sanitary engineering and other key issues for public health and care of the environment, strong, warm oak furniture and very large windows. “It was created to assist the personnel of Sanitary Works, a pioneer in sanitary engineering in Argentina and one of the most important in Latin America, and in 2006 it opened its doors to the public”.

Palacio de Aguas Corrientes

Its history began in May 1919. “The then director of the Technical Section of Sanitary Works of the Nation, engineer Antonio Paitoví – who would later occupy the presidency of the institution, proposed to organize a space in which they compiled, ordered and interpreted the data of the works using the Library, as the foundation of that directory.

In the beginning, this space worked in the annex of the headquarters of the Administration of Sanitary Works, in Marcelo T. de Alvear 1840 and then later moved to the Water Palace where after several changes, they decided to build it where it is now, in the water plants basement.

Its value was recognised when it won the prize for the Best Intervention in Works that involved a constructed Heritage Building in 2018, by the Central Society of Architects and the International Center for the Conservation of Heritage.

There are many bibliographic jewels? For example, the history of the Library. The annual documents, from 1877 to 1991, that allow the reconstruction of works carried out in the city and the history of the institution. “And the journals of Sanitary Works of the Nation, published monthly between 1937 and 1973 so that the specialists would give knowledge of their studies and opinions and be linked with the scientific production of the world”.

It seems very technical material, for experts in this field of work. The first issue of the library’s history from 1877, included 88 pages of work reviews and balance sheets and a problem that still exists; the wastage of water.

The space dedicated to the Library has three levels, shelves with walkways to cross them and shutters that protect them. Pay attention to the railings: “They were made with water pipes that the personnel of Sanitary Works always had on hand”.

The Library is open from Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 13:00 p.m. and from 14.00 to 17.00. There are free guided tours to the Palace Museum, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 11.00, with admission through Riobamba 750 the old water reservoir that overwhelms one with its very unconventional luxury and beauty. It is worth remembering that, shortly after its opening, it was called “mock palace” and “hidden lake” in the heart of Buenos Aires.

The Five Highlights:

1) The Luxury Storage Building. You had to say goodbye to the dirty cisterns and the public water sellers, given the tremendous epidemics that killed so many people. So in this environment that the Palacio de Aguas Corrientes was conceived and built between 1887-94 to provide safe drinking water to the porteños (local citizens).

It was designed by the English engineer John Bateman and was done under the magnifying glass of his Swedish counterpart Carlos Nyströmer and the Norwegian architect Olof Boye. The building, very unique, combines diverse European influences: the Second French Empire and English Victorians.

2) The Facades. For its profuse decoration, the external walls of the Palacio de Aguas Corrientes were made to dazzle. They used 130,000 enamelled bricks and 300,000 ceramic pieces imported from England and Belgium. In addition, they incorporated marbles and terracottas, also English. They decorated it with shields and small squares with flowers.

3) Library. The engineer Agustín González from the Palacio de Aguas Corrientes has lived a century and has a lot to tell. It houses some 15,000 volumes, including books and specialized magazines. The atmosphere, with oak furniture, large windows and railings made of water pipes, is cozy. It has a special space for children. And it’s been open to the public since 2006.

4) Gem I. Some of the treasures of the Agustín González Engineering Library are the Sanitary Works magazines of the Nation, which were published by month between 1937 and 1973. Their objective is to disseminate research and local experiences in the international scientific world.

5) Gem II. This is the first History of the Library of the Palacio de Aguas Corrientes. It dates from 1877 and was published by the press of Penitenciería – in the current Parque Las Heras. The 88-page document details works, contracts, balance sheets. And it talks about a problem dragged to this day: the wastage of water.

Source: El Clarin (translated and edited )


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