Often a nation’s history is reflected in its buildings. In the case of Buenos Aires, certain buildings trace one man’s vision through the passage of time. Clorindo Testa, Argentina’s most lauded architect, created some of the city’s most iconic edifices over the course of his 89 years.

Born in Naples, Italy, Testa moved to Argentina as an infant and went on to study architecture in the University of Buenos Aires, graduating in 1948. He spearheaded the Argentine rationalist movement and went on to become a national pioneer of Brutalism.

Testa was also a gifted artist, and this is evident in his architectural style, which tends towards the abstract, sculptural and conceptual. Three of his most famous buildings have immortalised a mid-20th century period of Argentine architecture, and indeed, the architect himself.

Banco de Londres interior
Banco de Londres’ interior. PH: Sorcha O’Higgins

Banco de Londres

Perhaps the most famous Testa building, the Banco de Londres was the winning entry by Clorindo Testa in collaboration with SEPRA (Santiago Sánchez Elía, Federico Peralta Ramos, Alfredo Agostini) of an architectural competition held in 1959 to design the headquarters of the Banco de Londres y América del Sur. Located at the intersection of Reconquista and Bartolome Mitre in Buenos Aires’ financial district, the bank is something of an anomaly in its dense, urban context. A concrete monolith typical of the Brutalist style, its soaring 26m high walls set it apart from the traditional buildings that surround it. However, despite its imposing hulk, conceptually the building attempts to reconcile its position at the junction of two narrow roads by physically removing the corner. At the time, this was an innovative concept: to create what the architect referred to as a “covered plaza” by blurring the lines between inside and outside, effectively widening both roads and drawing the city into the building itself. This also lends a certain transparency to the bank, an institution that, metaphorically, is a fortress, closed to the public.

Aesthetically, the facade is characteristically Brutalist – concrete fins undulate rhythmically along the length of the block, their vertical dominance exaggerating the height of the building and the massing of elements. Behind the punctuated concrete screen is a glass skin, balancing the heaviness of the concrete and allowing light into the triple height foyer. The lobby is an open, transitional space and was designed with the circulation core in the middle, acting as a central fulcrum around which everything else turns. Testa’s artistic flourishes can be seen in the sculptural treatment of the perforations and curvature in the external fins and in the boardmarking of the concrete itself.

Banco de Londres 2
Banco de Londres’ facade. PH: Sorcha O’Higgins

Biblioteca Nacional

The construction of the Biblioteca Nacional was the result of another competition for the new national library to be built on the site of Juan and Eva Peron’s former residence in Recoleta. It was won by Testa, Francisco Bullrich and Alicia Cazzaniga, in 1961. Brutalist, again, in style, the library building is one of the finest examples of the genre in the country, displaying many of the style’s principles in both its form and structure.

The building is made up of three constituent parts – a huge concrete box is thrust into the air by four circulation cores and cantilevers above a raised plinth below, creating an elevated urban concourse, the “roof” of which is the undercarriage of the cantilever above, similar to “covered plaza” in the Banco de Londres. This arrangement takes inspiration from the shape of a prehistoric mammal, the glyptodon, although this would not be immediately apparent on first glance. Again, Clorindo Testa’s mark can be seen in the carefully board-marked concrete and the yellow pipes that announce the service functions.

How to get there. Agüero 2502. Get Linea D to Aguero and walk to Las Heras, or get any of the buses that go down Las Heras or Libertador. It is possible to do a guided tour, Mondays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 4pm, Wednesdays at 3pm.

Biblioteca Nacional
Biblioteca Nacional. PH: Sorcha O’Higgins

Hospital Naval

Another competition winner by Testa, this time in collaboration with Hector Juan Lacarra and Genoud, the Hospital Naval is one of the most unusual buildings in the city, mainly owing to its appearance. It is designed to resemble a ship, with it’s linear volumes, circular porthole windows capped with mustard, plastic eyelids and the water tower atop the oceanliner-esque construction perceived as the control cabin, imbuing the hospital with an unmistakably maritime character. Its facade is covered with aquamarine tiles, reinforcing the naval aesthetic.

Hospital naval
Hospital Naval. PH: Sorcha O’Higgins

Facing onto the circular green of Parque Centenario, conceptually, the ship is moored in the park. The top floors are dedicated to hospital rooms, and, as is the case with many medical buildings, they are orientated towards the park, the views providing a rehabilitating calm to the patients.

How to get there. Av. Patricias Argentinas 351. Get Linea B to Angel Gallardo or get any of the buses that go to Parque Centenario. There are no guided tours of the building, but it is possible to go inside without an appointment

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Sorcha O'Higgins

Sorcha O'Higgins

An architect in her former life, Sorcha tired of building houses after 4 years working in London and decided instead to build a new life in South America. Armed with no Spanish, an unpronounceable Irish name and a passion for the unknown, she landed in Argentina in mid-2013 after a failed romance with Mexico, and hasn't looked back since. She now spends her days dissecting her life with a pen by writing for various blogs, savouring the flatness of the city on her cruiser bike and spreading the good word of graffiti by giving street art tours.

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