In the midst of one of the busiest intersections in Buenos Aires, that is, in Coronel Diaz and Santa Fe, there lies what one could call a haunted house. In the heart of Palermo, hiding in plain sight, there’s an abandoned, small but solemn looking construction with a For Sale sign on it since forever. As it so happens in so many of this city’s streets, a building as unique as this is located right between a bank and a pizza place.
That postcard describes Buenos Aires to perfection. One could go on and on about French influence from the beginning of last century swarming Recoleta, but one could just as easily refer to the Gothic influence of some churches. One could also discuss the thousands of McDonald’s versus the hundreds of classic porteño coffee places, or the modern looking living complexes next to the centennial university buildings. Buenos Aires is not defined by any one style, but is rather a feast of a multiplicity of them, which is why getting to know its architecture can be such a daunting endeavor.
To help us sail through it, enter Open House. Founded in 1992 by Victoria Thornton in London, the project came to being in the hopes that people who lived there would gain a new perspective on the city they walked through every day. The idea was simple: for two straight days, the doors of dozens of buildings, both private and public, would be open to anyone who wished to know its insides, and a tour of the place explaining the details of its construction and the main characteristics of its architecture would be conducted. It has since made its way to some of the biggest cities in the world, such as New York, Tel Aviv, Zurich and, since 2013, Buenos Aires, the first Latin American city to be part of the project. Since its first edition four years ago, the number of buildings open to visit has almost doubled, going from 56 in 2013 to 106 this year.
“This year, an important change in the dynamic of the event is that half the buildings on the list don’t require previous inscription” Santiago Chibán, an organizer of Open House Buenos Aires, told The Bubble. This is good news not only for the dozens of people who have been left out in previous editions because they couldn’t sign up on time, but it also means that many of those building are public spaces, which allows for a new outlook on places that usually go unobserved; after seeing them every single day for years, they almost seem mundane.
“This year, we’re focusing on public spaces more so than on private spaces, which have traditionally been Open House’s strong suit. We’re showing a work in progress this time, which is the subway station being constructed at Facultad de Derecho, where people will even be able to go through the tunnels”, said Chibán. Other exciting news include a tour to the offices of Perfil, where people will be able to see how a newsroom looks up close, and a guided tour through the brand new Centro de Transbordo at Constitución, where its architect will tell people all about the construction process. Of course, private buildings will be available as well, so the chusma in you, so very curious about where and how other people live, will also be satisfied.
Some of the buildings included in this year’s list are Palacio Barolo – a classic, which offers a lovely view of microcentro from above – Casa Scout, Teatro el Globo, PH Lavalleja (a new addition) and the Centro Metropolitano de Diseño, among many others of all shapes and sizes. However, for those who want more than to listen to 650 volunteers rambling on passionately about how amazing the moldings in this or that building are, Open House has other alternatives for you. Open Bici offers a chance to, through a carefully mapped out bike tour, zoom past the cities’ landmarks and hidden gems with a guide. Open Muro and Open Foto are and focus on urban art – you actually get to see a wall being painted live – and on photography, including an open photo contest for whoever chooses to visit Open House. Finally, Camina Buenos Aires consists of a series of guided walking tours through town, taking participants through some of the city’s most interesting non-mainstream streets and buildings.
Open House Buenos Aires certainly is a fun weekend plan, but it is also an empowering one. “The event is not targeted to architects because we want people who are not used to paying special attention to these kinds of constructions to get to know them, in many cases through the architects’ voice themselves”, Chibán told The Bubble. “We believe that, in this way, we are giving people the power to, by knowing and understanding what architecture is about, demand quality constructions and public spaces.”
So after the Open House weekend, you’ll go by the city’s endless and erratic styles and at least understand where they came from and what their story is. You’ll still be freaked out by houses like the one in Coronel Díaz and Santa Fe for sure, and the different styles that invade the city, one right next to the other, will probably still confuse you. But at least, after gaining the knowledge of the history behind it all, the randomness of it will marvel you. Trust me: after Open House, Buenos Aires will never look the same.
When: October 28th and 29th.