During dictatorship years, a group of teachers who have been dismissed from the School of Architecture of the University of Buenos Aires (FAU-UBA) after 1976 Coup d'etat -Justo Solsona, Rafael Viñoly and Tony Diaz- joined Ernesto Katzenstein to found an architecture debate and teaching facility called “La Escuelita” (The School). In fact, this facility was a way to create a meeting point for Buenos Aires architects in all those years. Courses were not aimed for credit transfer purposes, and were taught with free formats, where the four regular teachers started teaching their courses and, year after year, other architects were included to teach courses. This facility also included international contacts among its members, where one could hear names such as Aldo Rossi, Manfredo Tafuri or Rafael Moneo. The production of the facility in the first five years was published in a book prepared in 1981 and, with the return of democracy, it was decided to be closed so that members and teachers, who were most architects, could be admitted to FAU-UBA, now in a democratic era.
And in 1983, the final year of dictatorship, La Escuelita organized a contest for students to develop the project of a single family home in a complex lot in Palermo, in front of the Church and Plaza de la Guadalupe (fig.1and 2). This contest was very popular among students (it was a great opportunity for those studying at a University taken over by dictatorship). Among the members of the jury were Justo Solsona, Tony Diaz, Clorindo Testa and Lala Mendez Mosquera, and the winners were revealed at a well known art gallery (Praxis) and it was published in Summa magazine (directed by Mendez Mosquera), and had -perhaps because of this- very important presentations, particularly in two cases.
Proposals presented by Enrique Cadaveira (first prize), and Guillermo Sitler (honorable mention), were a big surprise. Firstly, both were performed with a degree of rare stringency and accuracy (even for La Escuelita environment, as works performed by architects-students did not exhibit these features). Even though the drawing technique were very similar (they had performed works together in La Truxa, a meeting point in those years, in this case students), it reinforced these features. It was also surprising to observe that although some of these were so similar, they were exactly opposite in terms of strategy.
Taking into consideration the fact that the authors were students, not only the quality of these works was surprising, but its comparison with the architecture in those years in Argentina.
Enrique Cadaveira project, first-prize winner, shows the program on the whole land, with a very articulated organization of the interrelation of external and internal spaces (fig. 3). He shows accurate references to Le Corbusier of the 20s, but he develops a project that makes a very Buenos Aires style of promenade architecturale. And I say this because the way the house closes to the outside (fronts are almost blinded) and external spaces are organized from the entrance is very similar to a specific tradition of Buenos Aires houses (which in fact comes from another mixture, Spanish and Italian traditions). Not only do we see a stratified succession of spaces, but a relationship with internal spaces. The way the house extends through land borders, organizing a yard system with great control of shapes and proportions, is closely related with certain classic strategies that eclectic architects of the beginning of 20th Century used in the city to be able to adapt classic sketches to narrow shapes of urban parcels. On the other hand, the exactitude of external spacial units, and its axial organization comprising perspectives towards the square, contrasts with rotating organization of internal spaces, avoiding the traditional poché of neoclassical houses. This manner, internal areas adopt deformations of land limits to define their spaces. It could also be said that a good part of the house volume operates as poché to ensure the shape of yards (figs. 4, 5 and 6). This mixture of organization by composition for external areas and the modern strategies for the organization of the house body (axiality for the first case, rotation and constant breakdown for internal spaces) shows a rare maturity of the author with respect to schematic projects (at least in houses) offered by many architects in that time.
When we pay attention to the management of certain details that have been hardly shown due to the brief delivery - the wall dividing the front yard, the main block cut to connect front and back yards, certain styles such as curved wall at the entrance, and the manner spaces are defined and the rawness employed to solve the house language, an unprecedented architectural culture is evident in Buenos Aires landscape of those days (and we should recognize that it has not changed much).
Guillermo Sitler project which received an honorable mention cannot be more different (figs. 7 and 8). The whole house is solved in a single body passing through the land on the perpendicular axis on the chamfer front. The result is an object making up two equivalent lateral external spaces (the only difference would be perspectives), not to mention references, a third external space at the back (called yard), triangular, and a completely closed main body, enabling a very adjusted internal organization (in fact, when drawing grounds, only this triangular yard is incorporated as external space). The organization adopted is so strict that it is only sufficient to see the way of access to the garage to recognize how the author prioritizes all decisions (fig. 9). This volume - extreme in stringency and abstraction - opens to the outside in hardly a few points, which do not reduce their enigmatic character at all. The project is evidently influenced by the first Mario Botta (the closest to Le Corbusier), but the odd nature of these features implanted in Buenos Aires land gives it a unique character.
Jury critic, signed by Tony Diaz, made justice of these values, with a clear reference to the value of contests as an opportunity to build an architectural speech in a comparative manner, one of the main tools in its definition, strangely undervaluated in these years (the need of looking exceptional denies this magnificent tool). The impact of these projects remained only on some of us who were at college in those years and the influence was much lower than they should have exercised.
La Escuelita closed shortly after this contest, its members joined the group of architects that incorporated to public University and it experience will become a doctoral thesis.