For a student of architecture, walking the streets of Buenos Aires is like turning the pages of a fat, beautifully illustrated, if slightly dog-eared, textbook. If a style has been tried and found to work elsewhere, it has probably been replicated in the Argentine capital. Most of the other styles have been tried, too.
To understand how this came about, follow the money. Rich from the 1880s onwards on account of its grain and meat exports and close partnership with the British Empire, Argentina acquired an oligarchy keen to flash its cash in the shape of Victorian pavilions and Neoclassical palaces. Later immigrants carried the seeds of the European avant-garde—art nouveau, eclecticism, modernism, etc.—to Buenos Aires, where they would grow in unexpected ways.
Buenos Aires isn’t finished yet. Cross the sinuous Bridge of the Woman to the east side of Puerto Madero and you will find yourself among gleaming skyscrapers with correspondingly soaring rents. It’s not Dubai. Then again, not so very long ago, neither was Dubai.
Palacio de las Aguas Corrientes
Keen players of Monopoly will know that Water Works is a pretty good buy at $150 but nothing to get excited about. BA’s poetically named Palace of Running Water, on the other hand, is a Park Place-level property. Inaugurated in 1894, this eclectic masterpiece is best known for its facade, which incorporates 300,000 ceramic tiles imported from Britain and Belgium.
I used to work here. One afternoon, while sitting with my back to an open window, a bat flew in and roosted on my neck. Nothing could be more in keeping with the character of this wonderful, spooky tower from 1923, meticulously conceived as an architectural homage to Dante’s Divine Comedy. Take a tour of this office building if you can, and always face the windows.
At 394 feet, this spartan Art Deco skyscraper in the Retiro neighborhood was South America’s tallest building when it was inaugurated in 1935. It’s also the source of one of BA’s tallest stories. According to the myth, Corina Kavanagh commissioned the tower purely out of spite, so as to prevent her archrivals, the Anchorena family, from seeing the church they had built nearby. File under “too good to be true.”
Mercado de Abasto
The work of Slovenian architect Viktor Sulčič, who also designed La Bombonera [link to Best places to watch sports in BA], this swooping, soaring brute of a building is my favorite in Buenos Aires. Built in 1934 as a wholesale fruit and vegetable market, it was transformed into a shopping mall in 1998. The great arches of reinforced concrete are imposing by day, but morph into something more graceful when lit up at night.
With its slender lighthouse and exquisite ironwork cupolas, this art nouveau landmark dates from 1915. Italian architect Francisco Gianotti modeled it on the Parisian shopping arcades built in the late 19th century. Thanks to extensive restoration, visitors can now climb to a viewing station 262 feet up. Little Prince author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry lived in an apartment here from 1929–1931.