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The Stories and Secrets of North Diagonal and Puerto Madero area of the CBD of Buenos Aires in the first half of the 20th Century

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On a tour from Avenida de Mayo to Plaza Lavalle one can see some of Buenos Aires most emblematic buildings projected for the most important companies of that era designed by the most prestigious architects that they had in Argentina

Buenos Aires streets were initially designed as a grid destined to be almost of infinite size. Until the beginning of the last century, along with Avenida de Mayo, two diagonals crossed. Actually, they were a small apart of a plan commissioned by the architect Joseph Bouvard from Paris, to bring a resemblance of Paris. For those then, it seemed a bit like Paris which was, at that time, ‘a city of our dreams’.

The Southern Diagonal ran from Plaza de Mayo to the Municipal Palace that would rise at the intersection with Av. 9 de Julio, ending at Av. Belgrano. The Diagonal Norte also started from Plaza Mayor but ran to Plaza Lavalle, where more palaces were built; el Tribunales (the Law Courts). Diagonal Norte rose under a strict morphological code that unified the height of its buildings to 33 meters. It ordered their crown or dome tops include a running balcony or eave and imposed that the base have another balcony running 9 meters and be reinforced with iron in the corners, allowing them to be ordained with domes of up to 4 levels high.

Thus rose the most imposing arteries of Buenos Aires that became Puerto Madero in the first third of the twentieth century. Located there were large companies, the banks, insurance companies, landowners, construction companies, such as the Tornquist, owners of the Hotel Plaza and the firm Tamet, manufactures of metal profiles, Ferrum, manufacturers of sanitary artifacts; Quadri, tile manufacturers; and Ctibor, manufacturer of hollow ceramic bricks. Materials and companies that together with others like Otis elevators made it possible to build in scale and height.

The intricacies of this fascinating story is told by architect Alicia Aletti in her book La Diagonal (Society, History and Architecture, Buenos Aires XX), that was recently published. The destiny lead Aletti to become a specialist in the Diagonal. Qualified as an architect at the end of the 70’s, she devoted herself more to walking between the scaffolds than engaging in libraries. “Mine is the work,” she recognizes. But I was lucky to work in the restoration of several buildings of the Diagonal, until persuaded by the evidence, she joined the CICOP (International Centre for the Conservation of Heritage), one of the Argentina-based institutions dedicated to heritage.

As if it were a history book, the works on the Diagonal began at Avenue de Mayo, in French academic style, and the last ending at el Tribunales (the Law Courts), with the architecture of the modern movement. The first, in 1920-23 was for the insurance company La Continental, Designed by Enrique Chanourdie and José Hortal, two architect graduates of the Faculty of Exact and Natural Sciences of Buenos Aires, a place where architecture was taught at the time.

One building constructed for the Bank of Boston, was structured entirely armed with welded metal profiles bolted and its exterior enveloped with very thick brick walls. The Boston Bank was built at the same time, they were preparing the headquarters in America but for the Buenos Aires headquarters, in homage to the mother country architects, Chambers and Thomas projected it in Spanish Plateresque style. All the pieces came from abroad by boat with duplicates, anticipating possible breakages.

In the following years the construction company of the Bencich family, from the province of Triste, of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, constructed several buildings in the city at strategic points of the Diagonal. Two were projected by the architect Eduardo Le Monnier in 1928: The Buildings Miguel and Massimiliano Bencinch, on Av. Pte. Roque Sáenz Peña 616 and 645, respectively, facing the intersection with Florida Street was crowned by imposing domes. The first followed the prevailing style, the French academicism and the second ventured to use some details Art Déco.

The 1930s, as Aletti recounted, came with several bad times: International financial crash and export shutdown, impoverishment of landowners ‘ families and the consequent sale of its great palaces and mansions and the eruption of the first government de facto and the beginning of the “infamous decade”. At the same time, the good news was that the air of renovation and renewal came to architecture.

Alejandro Virasoro constructed the building, ‘La Equitativa del Plata’, with its company Virubus Unitis, on another corner of Florida and Saénz Peña 570. Virasoro, the great local Art Deco master, was one of the drivers of the rationalization and systematization in the way of producing construction criteria put into practice in this building by constructing it with a concrete structure using precast sections, made in their own workshops. The particular staggered or stepped dome, as Aletti investigated, refers to the pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara, Egypt (2600 a.C), Built by Imhotep, the first architect of the history of the Humanity.

As I could not miss out in this Puerto Madero of the. XX, in addition to works such as those of Calvo-Jacobs-Giménez or Grancisco Giannoti (author of El Molino and Güemes gallery) also there is the work of Alejandro Bustillo, the Grand Master of the monumental style, the author of other imposing works such as el Banco Nacion and the Hotel Llao Llao in Bariloche.

In 1927 he built the Continental Hotel Insurance Company, in Sáenz Peña 725, emphasizing the body of access with four columns of triple height. The building for Tornquinst & Cía, owner of the luxurious Hotel Plaza, was thought of as an alternative to the luxurious hotels of the city with the objective that the visitor will find “the same comforts that people who live well were accustomed to at home.” After years of neglect, in 2005 it was restored and rehabilitated by the Urgell-Peneda-Urgell studio and for which it received the Ibero-American Award for Best Intervention (2006). Another project with Bustillo’s signature is the Volta building constructed by the company Ibero-Americanade Inmuebles y Creditos (Mortgage Loans) for the electricity company CHADE. In this work on Sáenz Peña 832, he had to act in depth to Alicia Aletti and it was an experience from which she boosted her admiration for Alejandro Bustillo.

But of all the constellation of buildings of the Diagonal, the one that most moves Aletti is the building YPF, of Eng. Saudibet Bilbao, which from 2010 is the National Historical Monument.

The building located in Saénz Peña 777, “of lines clearly rationalists in its interior and facade and a simple volumetry, stripped of all decorative detail-architectural features of pre-war, was conceived as an exponent of engineering work, more to its administrative-industrial functioning than to the design sensitivity that marked the Diagonal.”says Aletti.

But beyond this “excellent building for the administration of the most important industry in the country” what most excites Aletti is the dimension of that feat. In 1907 the first oil field in Comodoro Rivadavia was discovered. And in 1922, under the Government of Hipólito Yrigoyen, YPF (Yacimientos Petrolíficos Fiscales) was born, “the first state-owned oil company worldwide”, as Jorge Schaverz in the industry tells us, that we knew how to achieve.

Source: La Clarin

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