The Architecture of Buenos Aires: An introduction & guide

A city and its architecture are inseparably intertwined: the latter defining the former and delineating the spaces in which its inhabitants play out their lives – the skeleton over which the flesh of modern humanity forms. Inhering in the walls we’ve built and the pavement we’ve laid are the accumulated lives that unfolded within and upon them – their souls soaked into the city’s structures like the ghost of foregone puer brewed in the clay of a Yixing teapot.

The architecture of a city offers so much. It tells us a gripping story of where that city and its people have been; where they are; and where they aspire to be. At their best, a city’s buildings conspire together to transform an urban landscape into an open-air, living museum, accessible to anyone who would only fix her eyes accordingly and take in the trees through the forest.

Viewed through this lens, the architect and engineer become artists, employing the urban landscape as their canvas with construction materials as their paint, while the urban planner serves as the museum’s curator. This is not hyperbole: many of the great architectural movements of the modern age are heavily informed by the artistic currents of their age. Like paintings in a museum, two buildings are, moreover, often directly engaged in a dialogue with one another like a Picasso juxtaposed to a Matisse.

It is, for this reason, that I love cities and the architecture that comprises them. In this article, I hope to share some of this love with you by introducing you to the architecture of one of the world’s great metropolises, Buenos Aires, so that you can better appreciate the city, its people, its history and its culture.

In this introductory guide to the architecture of Buenos Aires, we introduce you to the various architectural styles that can be found throughout the city and provide a series of walking tours designed to help you experience these during your stay in the great metropolis of Latin America.

Related: A practical guide to Buenos Aires

Related: A guide to Cafe Notables in Buenos Aires

Instead of being exhaustive, the information provided here is meant to be practical and accessible to both the tourist and long-term visitor interested in familiarizing herself with the major architectural styles and buildings located in Buenos Aires.  Enjoy!

Architectural styles

The story of Buenos Aires’ architecture really begins at the turn of the 20th century, when Argentina had rapidly emerged as one of the world’s wealthiest countries. As its capital, Buenos Aires naturally benefitted from this immense wealth – using it to fund the great urban expansion that would take place over the coming decades to further fuel this growth and its associated influx of migrants from Europe.

As a result, Buenos Aires is today one of the best cities for experiencing the diverse styles that had emerged in Europe during this period: e.g., Beaux-Arts, Art Nouveau and Art Deco.

In this article (link in the heading), you will be introduced to the main architectural styles found throughout Buenos Aires. In addition to providing you with a history of each architectural movement, it identifies the defining characteristics of each so that you can equip yourself with the ability to distinguish between them as you explore the city and develop a greater appreciation for the buildings you encounter.

Where to go for architecture in Buenos Aires

The map below provides a master list of buildings that I’ve marked as being architecturally noteworthy. These are marked with a blue icon of either a building or monument depending on the type of structure. While this is not an exhaustive list and remains largely subjective, you should expect it to include the city’s most renowned buildings as well as the majority of those that have been designated for cultural protection by the city.

In general, it is advised that you take some time simply looking upwards (while being mindful of the possibility of stepping in dog shit) as there is no shortage of interesting architecture to be encountered throughout Buenos Aires – many of which won’t be listed as “must-see”. To find the heaviest concentration of noteworthy architecture, however, your best bet will be to wander around the “Microcentro” (particularly around Avenida de Mayo), Plaza San Martin, and Recoleta (particularly if you’re interested in Beaux-Arts).

If you’re looking for particular styles of architecture, click on the relevant icons on the map as many will identify the architectural form associated with that building. Notable areas for each of Buenos Aires’ main styles include the following.

Colonial: The center will offer you the best glimpses of Buenos Aires’ colonial architecture. Recommended: Walking Tour 1.

Neoclassical: For Neoclassical, your best bet is either to head (again) to the center (Avenida de Mayo) or to Recoleta (Beaux-Arts). Recommended: Walking Tour 1 / Walking Tour 3.

Art Nouveau: To see some the city’s best examples of Art Nouveau architecture, you should again head to the center, beginning with Plaza de Congreso and then heading west into the neighborhood of Balvanera. Recommended: Walking Tour 1.

Art Deco: Art Deco is scattered throughout the city, but the greatest concentration is in the theater district along Avenida Corrientes as well as the nearby Diagonal Norte. Recommended: Walking Tour 4.

Other: it is also recommended that you take some time exploring the area around El Caminito in La Boca to see examples of the corrugated steel structures that housed the early 20th century immigrant populations and which are believed to have served as the staging ground that gave birth to Tango. While El Caminito is a bit of a tourist-trap, you’ll find that nearby structures continue to house more impoverished citizens (exercise caution in these neighborhoods). The Palacio de Aguas Corrientes and the Xul Solar museum are also striking buildings that are rather unique among others located in the city.

Suggested architectural walking tours

As you might have already observed, Buenos Aires possesses a few areas with greater density of noteworthy architecture. In particular, you’ll find that it’s possible to see most of the city’s impressive architecture by exploring the Microcentro as well as Retiro and Recoleta.

Depending on how much you feel like walking, you could conceivably see these two areas in a few days. However, I might suggest trying to explore these neighborhoods over the course of at least 3 days, with up to 5 days being preferable for those with an abundance of time. In general, my advice is to always stay flexible and to let your curiosity guide you. If you see something interesting, venture off and see where your instincts lead you.

Walking Tour 1: Avenida de Mayo

Walking Tour 2: Calle Florida & Plaza San Martin

○Walking Tour 3: Recoleta

○Walking Tour 4: Corrientes & Santa Fe

Further reading: