ARGENTINA

In the late 19th century, a powerful group of politicians and intellectuals known as “The
Generation of the Eighties” incorporated Argentina into a world economy dominated by
the British Empire. The early decades of the 20th century witnessed the transformation of
the social and economic foundations of the country. Administrative and educational
reforms were implemented during the modernization process. Immigration and the
movement of the rural population to the city generated the rapid growth of metropolitan
areas. Concurrently, an ideological break with the Spanish colonial past generated a
cultural identification with the ideas of the French Enlightenment. As a result of a
widespread cultural debate between what was understood as civilization and progress
versus barbarism and savages, the larger cities of the country, particularly Buenos Aires,
were transformed by boulevards, parks, avenues, and building following the Beaux-Arts
tradition.
In Argentina, modernization was implemented by conservative political powers. The
ruling class was confronted with the dilemma of how to incorporate new ideas and how
to deal with an unprecedented situation of quick institutional change and demographic
diversity and growth. This situation generated a reaction in some sectors of society for
the need to preserve the Hispanic past. Consequently, in the first two decades of the 20th
century, parallel to an architectural production dominated by French-educated architects
such as Alejandro Christophersen, the first attempts to generate a national style were
developed.
Martin Noel adopted a neo-Colonial style in his own residence, today the Museum
Fernandez Blanco of Iberoamerican Art (1924). The neo-Colonial style also produced the
Cervantes Theater (1922) by Aranda and Repetto and the Bank of Boston (1924) by Paul
Bell Chambers and Louis Newbery Thomas with a facade inspired by the Spanish
renaissance. The search for authentic cultural roots and a national style was the first
attempt to examine architectural patrimony and to systematically preserve local culture.
The first part of the 20th century was also characterized by other reactions against
Beaux-Arts and academic canons. Art Nouveau appeared through varied manifestations
including Catalan modernism in Rosario by Francisco Roca Simó and in Buenos Aires by
Julián Garcia Nuñez with the notable Spanish Hospital (1906). Other architects who
embraced Italian influences include Mario Palanti, Francisco Gianotti, and Virgilio
Colombo.
The 1925 International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris signaled a shift in taste
identified with new materials and architectural types, such as cinemas, bars, banks, and
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hotels. In Buenos Aires, Alejandro Virasoro’s House of Theater (1927), Santander Bank
(1929), and the Equitativa del Plata office building (1929) are key examples of this
tendency. Also important is the Opera Cinema (1936) by Alberto Bourdon.
The transition between Art Deco and Argentinian rationalism is exemplified in
Rosario, with La Comercial de Rosario (1939), a building for offices, a theater, and
apartments by De Lorenzi, Otaola, and Rocca, and the Company of Industry and
Commerce Headquarters (1939) by Arman and Todeschini.
When the military regime of Uriburu took power in 1930, conservative and
authoritarian tendencies desired to build a national identity strong enough to overcome
the diverse mosaic of traditions brought by immigration. Parallel to these efforts, the
transformation of urban culture and new minimum standards of living marked the
transition from the dominance of academic and historicist styles to rational architecture.
Rationalism hence in the 1930s acquired a progressive connotation and increasingly
became a formal modernist alternative adopted even by architects with a traditional
academic education.
Exemplary works in this period in Buenos Aires include the Comega Building (1932)
by Enrique Douillet and Alfredo Joselevich, the Safico (1934) by Walter Moll, and the
Kavanah building (1936) by Sanchez, Lagos, and de la Torre. Broadly considered a
masterpiece of the period, the Kavanah’s refined Art Deco interiors were influenced by
Chicago’s skyscrapers but remained attentive to local characteristics, adaptation to the
site, and innovative technology. Another modernist landmark is the Cinema Rex (1937)
by Alberto Prebish.
In Córdoba, representative of the period is the Sudamerica Building (1938) by Jaime
Roca and Vilar, Sarmiento School (1940) by Juárez Cáceres, and the Allende House
(1936) by Roca.
Argentina also manifests some of the earliest critiques of modernist stylization. The
Austral Group, in its manifesto Will and Act ion (1939), declared that “present architecture is in a
critical moment and lacking the spirit of the initiators.” The group denounced the use of
academicism and so-called narrow-minded functionalism. The Austral Group was
composed of Bonet, Ferrari Hardoy, Kurchan, Le Pera, Ungar, and Zalba. Representative
of the manifesto’s position are the ateliers and housing for artists (1939) in Buenos Aires
by Bonet, Lopez Chas, and Vera Ramos, characterized by the use of Mediterranean
vaults, rich materials, and tectonic variations.
In the 1940s, Peron initiated a plan of industrial production for Argentina. World War
II promoted the industrial development of the country, and architecture became oriented
toward social welfare. Public work was directed to the areas of education, housing, and
health. It was only after World War II that International Style modernism gained
dominance. Between 1942 and 1944, the Austral Group published three influential issues
of the magazine Tecné, pursuing a modernism connected to landscape, climate, and regional
construction materials. An important work of this decade was the Apartment (1942) in
Virrey Del Pino, Belgrano, by Kurchan and Ferrari Hardoy, in which the architects
incorporated a growing tree into the facade.
At the same time, Amancio Williams, with a rigorous and purist aesthetic, created two
masterpieces: the House Over the Brook (1945) in Mar del Plata and studies for a
Suspended Office Building Project (1946). In the late 1940s, the influential organic group
Metron, composed of Tedeschi, Sacriste, Vivanco, Caminos, and Borgato, was created in
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Tucumán. Critical of the International Style for its negation of the past and regional
architecture, Metron’s ideas were promulgated by Eduardo Sacriste’s site- and landscapebased
works, including Barrio Jardin Elementary School (1947) and the Gómez Omil
House (1951).
The most representative work of this period is the project, in 1953, for the General San
Martin Theater (1960) in Buenos Aires by Mario Roberto Alvarez and Ruiz.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, institutional works were inspired by Le Corbusier’s
Unite d’Habitation apartment complex in Marseilles (1952). Le Corbusier’s curtain wall,
free plan, pilotis , and sculptural terraces are the dominant features of the Encotel Post Office
and Auditorium (1955) in Buenos Aires by Jose Spencer and the Municipal Building
(1954) in Córdoba by the group SEPRA: Sánchez Elía, Peralta Ramos, and Agostino. The
Civic Center of La Pampa (1956) by Testa, Davinovic, Gaido, and Rossi shows the
influence of Le Corbusier’s Parliament building in Chandigarh, India.
As an alternative to the International Style, the Church of Our Lady of Fátima (1957)
in Martinez (state of Buenos Aires) by Caveri and Ellis reinterpreted regional typologies
and materials.
One of the most important studios of the 1960s and 1970s is Mario Roberto Alvarez
and Associates. Representatives of the professionalism of the group are the Cultural
Center Buenos Aires City (1970) and SOMISA (1975), the headquarters for the steel
company owned by the state. Two seminal pieces of the 1960s are the project for the
National Library (project, 1961; construction, 1972–92) by Clorindo Testa and the
sculptural Bank of London (1966) by Testa, Sánchez Elía, Peralta Ramos, and Agostini.
This bank is considered a masterpiece of Brutalist architecture.
Since the 1960s, the application of new technology and processes of construction
characterized proposals such as the Hospital (1963) in Oran, Salta, by Llauró-Urgell and
Associates. This hospital creates a microclimate within a basic module, allowing for
expansion and, eventually, change of functions.
The 1970s were characterized by a series of relevant competitions, including the
project for the Auditorium of Buenos Aires City (1972), a complex of organic fragments,
by Baudizzone, Erbin, Lestard, Varas, Díaz. Moreover, the Civic Center (1971) for San
Juan by Antonini, Schon, Zemborain and Associates explored flexibility and modules. In
addition, several competitions for skyscrapers were held in Catalinas Norte in Buenos
Aires. The most interesting response is the Conurban building (1973) by Kocourek SRL.
The facade of the building is adapted to the climate and the orientations. The building for
ATC (Argentinean Color TV) by Manteola, Sánchez Gómez, Santos, Solsona, and
Viñoly is considered the most relevant example of the late 1970s for its integration with
the context and the resolution of complex functional requirements.
In the wake of the military government years, the 1980s were characterized by diverse
tendencies, ranging from the search for a rediscovery of Latin American connections to
the revalorization of the urban heritage to architecture as aesthetic experience only.
However, the enriching possibilities opened by a Postmodern condition also brought
frivolity and superficiality. José Ignacio Díaz contributed since the 1970s to transform
and enrich the urban character of Córdoba, the second-largest city in the country. Using
the characteristic brick construction material of the city, Diaz designed and built more
than 120 residential buildings. In the public sector, Miguel Roca’s proposal for Córdoba’s
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center and neighborhoods produced cultural centers and pedestrian malls and recuperated
the river.
The 1990s continued the multiplicity of architectural tendencies. The playfulness and
acceptance of many influences of this period are shown by the hybrid architecture of
Testa, particularly in his complex at the Recoleta Cultural Center (1994). The intention to
insert new architecture without disrupting the urban was demonstrated in Córdoba by the
Nuevocentro Shopping (1990) by Gramática, Guerrero, Morini, Pisani, Rampulla, and
Urtubey. This group also designed the new Justice Palace of Córdoba (1998).
The 1990s was also characterized by a new care for tectonics and finesse in details, as
in the work of the Studio Benadon, Berdichevsky, and Cherny, particularly in the
Organon Argentina offices (1997) in Bajo Belgrano and the CAPSA, Capex, offices
(1997) in Vicente Lopez.
Popular architecture, environmental issues, hybridization, identity, regionalism, and
rehabilitation, all involving both practical and poetic considerations, have been the
dominant elements of Argentinean architecture in the last 20 years. In a country where
economic and cultural dependence is still debated, the late decades have been marked by
an architecture more responsive to ecological and social concerns and the search for the
appropriate use of technology with local resources. The tension between these local
concerns and its universal vocation makes the architecture of the 20th century in
Argentina one of the most vital and interesting in the world.

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