UIA Building. Catalinas Norte. Buenos Aires 1968.

Should this section be sub-titled as exemplary failures in architecture, this is a double-failure case (and one of them is not that exemplary.) The lands in which the Catalinas Norte complex is located had a long history of use as equipment of the port firstly and as amusement park afterwards, to reach a moment at which it was removed from use and the State decided to acquire it in order to start a very ambitious plan. This plan involved a mixed management project, with project and withdrawal of ground property by the State (through the Municipality of the City of Buenos Aires, whose management in such a time was vested upon a delegate of the National Executive Branch) and private investment, for the development of a high-density administrative center. This administrative center would free the city center from the real-property pressure and, at the same time, would give thereto a characteristic image to the city front.

The project of the state entity in charge –the Organization of the Regulating Plan in Buenos Aires, OPRBA- suggested a unified base with access of bridges to its highest point (thus saving the incline of the “bajo porteño” area), from which several towers of varied height emerged. The base would include all necessary services not only to meet the needs of whoever lives in towers (designed as offices and hotels), but also the needs not met in Buenos Aires downtown, thus allowing for a secure integration of the new sector into the existing city. The project team included, among others, Odilia Suarez and Clorindo Testa (1.)

Everything was just fine, until 1966 when one of the typical constitutional interruptions Argentina used to undergo and the new management of the city considered that the State should not be involved in the undertaking, and started to divide the site into lots, applying mild rules seeking (in vane) to recover some of the OPRBA plan integration aspirations: each project should reply the logics of base and tower, as with no bridges or unified management, only a series of streets (minimum) shall be opened to facilitate the vehicular and pedestrian access (neither the streets nor the bases demanded never achieved to settle the integration problem which was so much threatening.)

From the division into lots, the resulting parcels, and one of was acquired by the Argentine Industrial Union (UIA) to move its venue from the building they owned (to which they have currently come back) at Avenida de Mayo. This entity organized a public bid for the building which would be the first one in the new city sector. The bid was an interest focus of any type of architects (inexperienced and experienced, of a professional profile and culturally consagrated.) And the Manteola-Petchersky-Santos-Sanchez Gomez-Solsona-Viñoly office was the winner (2.)

The winning proposal was submitted from the descriptive memory with the aspiration to meet three goals: flexibility, profitable use and representativity. The first two goals were met with an adjusted side core plant (west-oriented) containing all services and main circulations, leaving for a plant's sector (to a third of the perimeter) a pair of hierarchical elevators matching a part of the main structure (3.) The third goal was intended to be met with two media: firstly, with a work of adjustment on the development of the tower preventing the mandatory base to make it low. For such purpose, the tower was prevented from emerging from the base, projecting it as an incomplete ring (4) as if the tower was not at level zero, but at a lower level, which features a tower taller than its own height. For this reason, the access should be even from a bridge (5.)

Secondly, the tower was extended beyond the useful office plants including a sector the bases asked for as “UIA’s Club” and the memory called as “Relaxation Capsule,” i.e. the courtain wall perimeter of the tower was extended together with the main structure (which would support the heliport required in the program) and closed a very complex space of hanging gardens, suspended trays, a space targeted to enjoyable life with excellent views to the river and the city, which strengthened the building’s image not only because of the tower prolongation, but of the suggestion to place transparent glasses, which would make all the interior visible to the exterior, both of work and dolce far niente. The suggestion was strengthened by the exceptional perspective drawn by Rafael Viñoly, which would be for years his introduction letter (he even today introduces in his webpage this work as his “first won bid,” faithfully following that Argentine custom to deny his partners on this achievement) and who was then a 23-year fifth-year student (5.)

The perspective shows the tower as totally developed, slightly fragmentated by the permeable base, with the opaque core modulated by a few service volumes articulated for metabolists (though in a more cosmetic manner: the works of this group were typically fragmentated only every after five floors or a handful per floor.) The suggested skin transparency shows not only the routine office plants but also the floors oriented to the UIA specific offices (which start to have a different section than their group) as the Club in the tower’s auction.

The tower’s building would start in 1970, and soon started to have changes. Firstly, the courtain wall definition suggested by architects was abandoned, as neither the aluminum measures nor the transparent crystals were manufactured in Argentina. In addition, the import of such materials making the building’s image up by the corporation of Argentine industrialists would not seem a proper signal. And afterwards the worst happened: the “Relaxation Capsule” was replaced by more office floors. The alleged bidding suggestion winning letter was abandoned (6.) This removed the building’s great singularity and turned it into a tower which, while provided with elegance, detail adjusted and featuring a great zero plan resolution (which is very standard than its original project.

Everyone may obviously image there are economic reasons for the decision: as it has more office floors suitable for renting, the whole operation would be more profitable and amortization time would improve. As from that moment on, all big companies in Buenos Aires aspired to set their venues in that new city sector and the UIA should not deny it.

However, to the other hand, everybody believes that a suggestion to make the enjoyable life of the “Industry capitans” visible to all city population did not seem to be a good idea. Its conversion into a public space should not have been evaluated (as used in the beginnings of XX century); it was simply removed. The corporate organization authorities found out that so much metropolitanism could cost them dear (even life) and decided to spend their free time outside the city, where the first Country Club started to be built, an environment where they could be only seen by a medium class eager to be mixed with them and whose decision (as a result of having reached there) would be in no way challenged.

Catalinas Norte followed its cycle; there were many bids for publicly held companies (Aerolíneas Argentinas, SEGBA) which sought to be located in the sector but never developed the winning projects. Some noticeable building as the Conurban and many anodynes was built. Another chance was lost in the city of Buenos Aires.