We’ve all heard of the Ateneo Grand Splendid, the former theater transformed into the world’s (arguably) most beautiful book shop. But the city is full of hidden gems that were once nothing but the dusty skeletons of old, abandoned buildings. Did you know the Ciudad Cultural Konex, a space for all things art, theater, music and dance, used to be an old oil refinery? Or that the gigantic and beautiful 100,000 m2 Centro Cultural Kirchner was once the central post office?
Here we’ve hand-picked a few of the city’s reincarnated buildings which are living proof that renovation doesn’t just serve to create unique, often beautiful, spaces. However, it does have its economic perks and is – more importantly – better for the planet than pitching up new buildings every square mile.
Teatro Timbre 4
Back in 2001, the actor and director Claudio Tolcachir dreamed of opening his own theater, but found himself in the midst of a nationwide economic crisis. To avoid the impossible expense of buying a brand new space for it, he decided to open his living room to aspiring actors, thespians, and theater-lovers alike.
Named Teatro Timbre 4, the welcoming, open-door policy of his acting school and theater was clear from the onset (‘timbre‘ being the Spanish for ‘doorbell’). But although its name has a humble ring to it (pun intended), the theater has grown over the years and has come to accommodate both local and international plays.
As it stands, the theater now takes over an entire house, which no longer looks like a house: inside, the old living room is gone, replaced with a full-blown auditorium. And yes, with his theater demanding more and more space, Claudio had to quickly move next door.
Usina del Arte
Another cultural hub which boasts a hidden past is La Boca’s Usina del Arte. Lesser known than the Ateneo’s past-life, the Usina del Arte was an electrical power plant. With its distinctive clock and original cistern tank, the principal tower casts its shadow over the main patio, which is still indented with the old rail tracks that betray its early 20th century beginnings.
These original features are merely decorative, however; inside, the concrete support beams from which power plant’s turbines used to hang now hold up a second level of the Salon Mayor. Its floor, and the ceiling of the room underneath, are partly made up of glass bricks so as to let light from the huge top floor windows also flood the ground floor.
With clever touches such as this, the designers for this government-backed project really made the most of the old space, converting the huge industrial facility into two auditoriums and a generously-sized gallery (with a jam-packed cultural calendar).
Rumor has it that Milion, elegant restaurant-bar located in the city center, is said to have been named after the amount of money that was invested in the renovation of this 1913 mansion. The exact amount spent is up for debate, but the time it took is less nebulous: in six months, the dilapidated mansion was not only restored, but also given all the trappings of a venue fit for public use.
Inherited by the uncle of one of its four current owners, the French-style mansion had been left uninhabited and unloved for seven years. During the seven decades prior, the place was home to a family of German immigrants whose heirlooms still pepper the house, from family portraits to their old piano.
What’s more impressive is that it still boasts its old world charm, with delicate balconies, elegant pinewood staircases, and a courtyard draped with ivy. But don’t let its belle époque origins fool you, this is a versatile and modern space: breathing life into its old walls are frequent performances from emerging bands and DJs, theater productions, film and documentary projections, and photography workshops. With a bit of TLC, a potentially derelict building can be reborn into a youthful, charming venue.
Comedor Los Piletones’ Subte Coach
Margarita Barrientos’ restaurant is also a renovated space, but in a way that you could never imagine. An unused A line subte carriage forms the four walls of her establishment. Barrientos claims that after writing to the city government, they offered the coach as a donation to her cause. In a matter of days, she restored and transformed it with the help of “Salto-Diseño en Acción,” a project made up of socially-conscious design specialists Gustavo Yankelevich and Máximo Ferraro.
The trio’s environmentally-friendly philosophy is not only physically manifested in the recycled restaurant itself, but also in the concept behind it: it doesn’t merely function to serve food to lucky tourists, but also to teach locals how to cook. On a voluntary basis, chefs are invited to come along and give cooking lessons, the aim being to generate sustainable employment for the people of Los Piletones, a lower-income area of Villa Soldati where the stationary subte coach is located.
As if this weren’t enough, a section of the would-be redundant train is dedicated to the restaurant’s very own hydroponic kitchen garden. Forget produce that’s traveled the world to get to your plate, the vegetables grown here are from a sustainable source, pesticide-free, and as fresh as you can get.
Since the economy’s collapse, porteños prefer not to put their trust in financial institutions but rather spend their money on more concrete investments, something which could be held accountable for the pronounced interest in re-purposing here. Property is even paid for in cash (there has been a notable surge in the number of people taking out loans in recent years, the vast majority going toward the purchase of property), with buyers paying in US dollars.
This tendency toward a more sustainable way of doing things is something in which the city’s government seems to be particularly invested. It is echoed in the accommodation plans for this year’s Youth Olympic Games, which will be held in Buenos Aires in October. The construction of an Olympic Village is something which can involve a lot of corruption and controversy (Rio 2016, we’re looking at you).
The village, which is due to be finished this April, will be home to almost seven thousand young athletes, coaches, and officials until the games are over, at which point it is set to form part of a new residential area of Comuna 8. Priority will be given to the people of Comuna 8 (Soldati, Villa Riachuelo, and Villa Lugano) when it comes to purchasing the accommodation here, made more economically accessible through the introduction of ‘créditos blandos’ (a kind of low-interest ‘soft’ loan) through the Instituto de la Vivienda de la Ciudad y el Banco Ciudad.
Each place has a unique benefit stemming from the very fact that it is a renovated place, whether economic or simply aesthetic. And the great thing is that a fair few of these repurposed buildings are government projects.
With the world at everyone’s fingertips these days, people are searching for quirky, off-the-beaten-track places and experiences with which to surprise their friends (and social media followers). But this is not just about curating a more interesting Instagram feed: in our world of throwaway culture, where everything is so quickly out-dated and disposable, it has never been more important to recycle, renovate, and re-imagine.