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A detective's guide to Buenos Aires architecture

Buenos Aires' neighborhoods offer an impressive sampling of the city's heritage and utopian ambitions.

Famous examples of art nouveau architecture in Buenos Aires include the Palacio Barolo, a design inspired by the cosmology of Dante's "Divine Comedy," and the Molino Confectionary, the storied coffeehouse next to the Argentine National Congress.

Just nearby the Congress building, there's lots of art nouveau neighborhood architecture in Balvanera. On Rivadavia Street, the architect Eduardo Rodriguez Ortega built two awe-inspiring Gaudi-influenced masterpieces: the Palace of the Lilies and another next door, which reads "There are no impossible dreams" on the front. Balvanera is also where art nouveau master Virginio Colombo lived and worked. You'll find two of his "rent houses" facing each other on Hipolito Yrigoyen Street and farther down a beautiful shoe factory that's now a parking garage.

Art deco architecture debuted in France in 1925 and became all the rage spanning the Depression era through 1940. It glorified geometric forms and hard lines inspired by archeological discoveries being made at the time in Egypt, Syria and the Americas. Iconic New York skyscrapers, such as the Empire State building and Rockefeller Center, are classic art deco examples in the Untied States.

Prominent examples of art deco architecture in Buenos Aires include the Kavanagh Building, South America's tallest skyscraper at the time it was built, and the Abasto Market, the old immigrant fruit and vegetable market (now a shopping mall) in Carlos Gardel's old neighborhood. Art deco is mixed throughout most parts of Buenos Aires. Just look for those geometric shapes and hard lines in the building facades.

Keep your eyes peeled for signatures. It's the easiest way to identify an architect. If the architect didn't sign his building, the constructor or the engineer he worked with might have. Teams frequently collaborated on projects multiple times so finding at least one name is a big help.

Ethnic surnames names are also important clues to help identify architects. Immigrant patrons and architects tended to work and hire within their own communities. So if you find an interesting building with a German name carved in it, there's a good chance the architect was German, too.

Even if there aren't any signatures visible, signature styles usually are. Individual architects preferred using specific iconographic motifs in sculpted facades and decorative iron works. Virginio Colombo liked to put spiral conch shapes into iron railings and doors and it's a telltale way to spot his lesser-known buildings.

That's the basics to get you around the average block in Buenos Aires. There are many more specific styles, buildings and neighborhoods to marvel at in the city, but it's much better to burn some shoe leather and discover them for yourself. Happy sleuthing.


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