Project: Argentina / Chile
Class: Advanced Summer Travel Studio, California College of the Arts, Architecture Division

Date: Summer 2010
Instructor: Leonardo (Lalo) Zylberberg

BUENOS AIRES STUDIO: San Telmo Youth Center

Buenos Aires is one of the most vibrant cities and cultural centers of Latin America, with an abundance of art museums, theater and music venues, and a bustling urban life. It is also a city of contrasts that reflect the impact of increasing globalization on urban life in the South American metropolises.

San Telmo, a foundational landmark district in the historical core of the city, became the prime neighborhood as the city began to expand south after independence. A yellow fever epidemic in 1871, however, lead to an exodus of the wealthier population to healthier areas and redirected the city’s expansion to the north. After this shift, San Telmo became a marginal, working-class, immigrant neighborhood, as well as the center of popular culture. An unanticipated consequence of San Telmo’s decline was the preservation of its original structure and cultural heritage, which triggered its present revival as a desirable destination for tourists, American and European expatriates, and locals. Weekend fairs in the parks and streets, restaurants and tango venues are the some of the main attractions.

Presently, gentrification and tourism coexist in tension with poverty. One byproduct of this coexistence is the groups of poor youth that loiter in the area, taking in the scene and occasionally preying on tourists.

Luis Grossman, an architect and Director of the Direccion Genereal Casco Historico, a city agency in charge of preserving the cultural heritage of the historic district, is committed to the creation of a place where these young people may congregate without being marginalized from the scene, to socialize, express their culture, produce events, and become an active and positive presence rather than engaging in drugs and petty crime. His staff developed a program and identified four possible sites for the construction of a youth center.

We divided our group in four teams, one per site, and invited four local students to join us, one per team. The first week was devoted to analyze the sites, the neighborhood and the city, and for two weeks we set up our studio at the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella, a private university with an architectural undergraduate program similar to the Architecture department at CCA.

Each team reinterpreted and transformed the program according to their own findings, based on their particular site conditions and their spontaneous take on the culture. The outsiders view, in a way, allowed us to have a fresh look at the existing conditions and challenge some conventional default assumptions of the program.

Some common traits of the projects were an emphasis on cultural expression; the

creation of open space as the organizer of space and events; the flexibility of boundaries to allow for privacy as well as open interaction and activity flow with the community and weekend tourist invasion; the connection to adjacent parks and sports facilities to supply programmatic needs difficult to accommodate on the sites; the preservation of site features such as scarred lot line walls to suggest an informal, non hierarchical, non institutional occupation of the urban infill space; the use of local technology and economic construction.

We had a final review and presentation in our studio with the participation of local guest critics and the full staff of Casco Historico, who had a very positive reaction to our proposals, finding them insightful, refreshing and feasible. They were very enthusiastic about using our proposals to demonstrate the feasibility of the project, fundraising and acquiring one of the sites and building it. The four projects will be published in Clarin, one of the regions main local newspapers and in Summa, a South American architecture magazine.

For us, it was a great experience to tackle a real problem, which gave us a very special vantage point to the urban dynamic of Buenos Aires and the opportunity to contribute to advance a worthwhile and necessary project.

As a complement, we also had lectures by Pablo Beitia, architect of the Museo Xul Solar, and by Axel Friedman, Marcelo Faiden and Diego Arraigada, three of the more interesting young architects making their mark in Argentina.

Chile Architecture Tour

Before arriving in Buenos Aires, we spent ten days in Chile, getting aquainted with the incredible wealth of the modern Chilean architecture.

Our first stop was Valparaiso, a Victorian city built on hills that seem to fall into the ocean. As opposed to the grids typical of Spanish or Anglo American cities, Valparaiso streets claim the Cerros following the drain patterns of the hills, like a landscape made of buildings, the meandering streets only knowable by memory. Each Cerro is an enclave, a neighborhood with its own character

Near Valparaiso we visited Ciudad Abierta, an experimental open city on the dunes started in the seventies where professors and students from the Universidad Catolica design and build all kind of structures based on ideas of community and environment.
After that Ocho al Cubo, a development of weekend houses by the sea, where each of eight houses is designed by some of the best contemporary Chilean architects, including Jose Cruz, Teodoro Fernandez, Sebastian Irarrazval, Matias Klotz, Cecilia Puga and Smiljan Radic, and one by Toyo Ito, the first of the next phase by international architects.

In Santiago we had lectures by Jeannette Plaut, author of Pulso: New Architecture in Chile, and the radical group Super Sudaca, as well as personal guided tours of their work and offices by Ricardo Abuauad, Jose Cruz, Cecilia Puga, Smijlan Radic and Carlos Undurraga and visits to contemporary buildings by Alejandro Aravena, Izquierdo Lehman, Matias Klotz and Alberto Mozo and modern masterpieces like the CEPAL-UN building and the Chapel of the Benedictine Monastery.

We also visited three schools of architecture and discovered that in the Universidad Catolica, a compound that includes a Spanish colonial studio wing and radical buildings by Puga and Aravena, digital studios are designing and building structures very similar to what we are doing at CCA.

Projects by: (above)Ryan Lee, Vladimir Vlad, Jessica Stuenkel, Victoria Allger (below) Sean Canty, Charles Ma, Rachel Yu, Sophia Clara Stafforini.