What was Buenos Aires like at the beginning of the 20th century, when the expression "riche comme un argentin" (as rich as an Argentine) was commonplace? The aim of this walk, in the company of an architect or urban historian, is to examine what ‘Argentine national identity’ exactly is and to trace its expression in the architectural and urban tissue of Buenos Aires stemming from the beginning of the 20th century, the city’s golden age of la Belle Epoque when it became the “Paris of South America."
Our walk will begin at the legislative end of Avenida de Mayo, in front of the National Congress, which will allow us to understand the internal affairs of Argentina before 1930, and to position this rich country, whose wealth was based on export of agricultural products, within a broader context of the international political scene at the beginning of the 20th century. We will move on to a stunning example of private prosperity, going hand in hand with the prosperity of the state: the impressive Palacio Barolo, which was the highest building in Latin America at the time it was constructed. The building will bring up the subject of presentation and auto-presentation of the Argentine citizens, a topic which will lead us to the ultimate public building designed to and for show: the famous Teatro Colón. Here we will try to trace the importance of various display possibilities, onstage as well as in an urban context, looking to public issues such as education, hygiene, and infrastructure and their visual presence within the urban tissue. We will delve into these themes with a look at the Palacio Pizzurno, Escuela Roca, or the Water Company Palace (Palacio de Aguas Corrientes).
We will then commute to the most elegant districts of Buenos Aires; Recoleta and Retiro, the destination of those who fled the southern parts of town to escape the yellow fever epidemic in 1871. As we stroll along the Avenida Alvear, through Plaza Pellegrini and Plaza San Martín, we will be able to admire the private palaces of the Argentine society representing the greatest affinity to the once so demanded 'Parisian style'. Lastly, our walk will lead us to an exquisite example of industrial architecture: the stunning Retiro Train Station. It will give us the opportunity to appreciate the steel construction and decoration. We will also examine the foreign influences in Argentine economy and infrastructure at the turn of the centuries and the incredible effect this means of transport had on the society’s mobility.
By the end of our walk, we will emerge with a strong grasp of the city’s history through its buildings, how the city was shaped during this era as well as a better understanding of the complex and multileveled Argentine identity as a nation.