On 23rd December six NGO’s appealed to the courts to provide legal protection for all buildings in Buenos Aires built before 1941. The plea came amid a construction boom in the capital, with a number of iconic, important buildings being destroyed to make way for modern, newer buildings in recent years.
As the city government did not appeal the judge’s order in favour of the protection, the law has come into effect. The Judge also supported an article establishing that the city should preserve its urban and architectural patrimony.
The new law concerns 140,000 buildings in Buenos Aires accounting for 20% of the 200 million square metres of the city. Under the previous law, which expired on 31st January, the Consejo de Asunto Patrimonial judged if a building had patrimonial value, and if so, would rule that it could not be destroyed. Since 2007, the government has received 5,242 demolition requests and approved 4,253 of them.
Why is it Important?
The NGOs that presented the new law are worried that due to the construction boom, the beautiful buildings and architectural heritage of the city will diminish. In 2010, the World Monument Fund included the historical centre of Buenos Aires in their list of 100 cultural sites most at risk. ‘Salvemos Buenos Aires’ is the pioneering questionnaire about patrimony management conducted in 2010 by NGOs Fundación Ciudad and Basta de Demoler. It argues that “the historical centre is testimony to argentine history and to preserve it is vital.”
Gabriel de Bello from Salvar a Floresta, adds that: “preserving patrimony is important; buildings can be clear examples of our history and our identity. Tourists who come to Argentina are interested to see where Freud ate ice cream for example. If the government wants to increase tourism, they need to look after our patrimony.”
The new law encourages better conservation of older buildings rather than allowing them to be destroyed. Leonardo Figueroa from the NGO Proteger Barracas said: “it encourages restoring the buildings, maintaining their value but attracting new inhabitants.”
Notable Extinct Landmarks
A number of national treasures, which formed a part of the country’s rich history, have been lost. The iconic Richmond Café was shut down in August to be made into a sports shop for the multinational chain, Nike. The cafe was once a literary refuge of Argentine intellectuals including the likes of Jorge Luis Borges. The building was designed by the Belgian architect, Jules Dormal, also the creator of world famous Colón Theatre. Robert Cox, the former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald, described the closing of the English-style café as “barbaric and horrific” in the UK’s Guardian newspaper.
In December last year, the home of the poet Alfonsina Storni, located in Flores, was also taken down. Its demolition was considered illegal as an appeal for the building to earn protection as a cultural site was awaiting a second approval in the city legislature. According to Mr Figueroa, “it was a house with no architectural risk and the whole of Flores was proud of it.”
In 2010, construction on a 90m tall tower in San Telmo Tower began despite vast protests from local NGOs and neighbours. More than 3,000 people, claiming that it decreases the quality of life of its neighbours and arguing that San Telmo has become a tourist hub precisely because of its historical houses, which are increasingly under threat from new high rises.
Amongst fears that the emblematic Casa Suiza in the Congreso neighbourhood would be converted into offices, NGOs and many people from the Afro-Argentine community fought the cause and protested against it closing down. They argued that the building was full of history and had served the community through its use for cultural shows and gatherings since it had been built in 1861. Carlos Gardel once sang at the location and the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo took refuge there during the dictatorship.
On 7th January, a judge ruled that it formed a part of the historical and cultural appeal of the city and would not be demolished.
Raul Gonzalez from Estudio Nogales, urban property developers says more historically significant buildings should be saved: “If the buildings are well conserved then even if they are older, there is no reason that they should be demolished. I personally think that we should save buildings with history such as the Richmond Café.”
Mr De Bello, of Salvar a Floresta believes that Argentina should have more severe punishments for those who illegally knock down a property, “at the moment, people just think that it isn’t a problem to demolish a property, there is a fine and that is it.”
Daniel Chain, the minister for urban development in Buenos Aires, expressed in his column in Clarín that protection shouldn’t cease just for those buildings constructed before 1941 as he remarks that many renowned Argentine architects designed their works after this date.
Click here to find out what locals think about the new law