Colonial architecture
Spain's colonial legacy, revindicated after Argentina's independence.

Buenos Aires still boasts some real gems from its past as a Spanish colony: simples adobe constructions with plain facades, iron bars, tiled roofs and ceramic pipes. The style was revindicated after Argentina's independence, with several 20th century buildings adopting a neocolonial style.

Why colonial? 

As the name suggests, this style of architecture has its origins in the time when Argentina was under Spanish dominion. The neocolonial style then became popular in the 20th century as part of a newfound interest in the country's roots.

One of the best examples of the original colonial style is the Basílica Nuestra Señora del Pilar in what is now the Recoleta neighbourhood. The king of Spain authorised the building of this church on what was then the outskirts of the city in 1716. The church has just one nave and six side chapels enclosed by thick walls. 

The facade has windows with a type of translucent onyx stone and a small narthex perpendicular to nave. The side altars have a Germanic baroque style and among the images you can find “Lord of humility and patience”, of unknown authorship. The church's tower was the highest point in the city for a long time. The dome is capped with a mosaic of sky-blue ceramic tiles from Pas-de-Calais, France.

Two jesuit architects

The architects in charge of finishing the basilica were the jesuit priests Juan Bautista Prímoli and Andrés Blanqui. They also built the Cabildo, Buenos Aires' old colonial town hall. Work on this building began in 1711, and the original construction had six more arches than the building that stands today (they were demolished to make way for the the streets Avenida de Mayo and Diagonal Sur.) The barrel tiles on the roof are called thigh tiles (musleras in Spanish) because they were shaped on the maker's thigh. The building has two pinacles, one on each side of the tower.

After a period in which the building was modified to incorporate an Italianate style, it was thoroughly restored and returned to its original colonial style in 1940. The architect Mario Buschiazzo had studied other surviving Spanish cabildos, such as those of Salta and Luján.

The arrival of neocolonial design

When Argentina celebrated its centenary in 1910, the French architectural style was most influential. But Martín Noel, founder of the Academia de Bellas Artes proposed a return to the country's cultural roots, and defiantly built an immense home in the colonial style. The house has an internal patio, garden areas and an ornamented whitewashed facade. Since 1936, the building has housed the Isaac Fernández Blanco Museum.

Another private home that has been turned into a museum is that of Ricardo Rojas. This erudite man of letters commissioned his friend the architect Ángel Guido to build a house that combined Spanish colonial and native American influences. The two-storey house is a clear example of neocolonial architecture, with a reception patio with garden and fountain, a vaulted arcade, tiled roof and a facade inspired by the ornamentation of the church San Lorenzo de Potosí in Bolivia.

In the same period, the powerful local woman Mercedes Castellanos de Anchorena gave her daughter an Italianate summer house in what is now the Belgrano neighbourhood as a wedding gift. But the daughter's new husband, the writer Enrique Larreta, transformed the house using a Spanish colonial aesthetic, adapting a more austere form of baroque style. Very simple on the outside, the building was part of a movement that sought to return to a traditional aesthetic.

Not only houses

Perhaps the most notable neocolonial work in Buenos Aires, however, is a bridge. Puente Alsina links the neighbourhood of Nueva Pompeya with Valentín Alsina on the other side of the Riachuelo river. The bridge was built in 1938 after three previous bridges failed - the first collapsed in a storm in 1855, the second a year later, and the third in 1938. The first version was made from hard woods like quebracho, later replaced with iron.