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The secrets of Diagonal Norte, the avenue nominated as a Cultural Heritage of Humanity

An avenue full of details that tell a lot about our history.

Buenos Aires
Born in the heat of a first patriotic centenary celebrated in Europe, Roque Sáenz Peña Avenue brings together unique and distinctive buildings that were included in the nomination that Buenos Aires presented to UNESCO to declare it a World Heritage Site. The popularly called Diagonal Norte was conceived with Parisian inspiration and not only because of its first buildings, heirs to the French academicism, but because its design is the result of the modernization process commissioned by the mayor Carlos de Alvear to the French architect Joseph-Antoine Bouvard in 1907. This Buenos Aires at the beginning of the 20th century wanted to imitate the spirit of the “City of Light”, which between 1850 and 1870 had already opened its great avenues to avoid the popular barricades that had ravaged the French capital during several revolutionary periods of the 18th and 19th centuries. For the opening of the avenue, which was born in the Metropolitan Cathedral and ends in Lavalle Square, loans were requested in 1913, lots were made, to proceed until well into the 1930s to the construction of buildings of different architectural styles with details of luxury and advanced technology. “The avenue must be observed from Plaza de Mayo to Tribunales, which is the general order in which the buildings were built. As we move in this direction, we see how they respond to the styles and materials of each era,” the architect Alicia Aletti, a specialist in the history of Diagonal, told Télam. Aletti, who participated in the recovery of many fronts of the artery, explained that “French academicism prevails in the first blocks, then eclecticism, art deco and rationalism”. Although thought of as an artery of predominantly business buildings with commercial premises, the notable note is that some flats were destined for what was known as “furnished” in the middle of the 20th century, that is, rooms that were rented for hours to meet poachers. “There are at least four buildings that, on their upper floors, have these spaces with Murphy rebuttable beds and a space for service staff who communicated with occasional occupants through doorbells,” said Aletti. The intersection of Diagonal Norte with Florida is a point of special attention because there is the monument to the former president who gives the name to the avenue, Roque Sáenz Peña, and because there are five of the most significant domes of the entire avenue. Three of them have as common origin the surname Bencich — two are “twins” and represent the brothers Massimiliano and Miguel, while the remaining one belongs to their uncle — the fourth is that of the old Bank of Boston and the fifth is that of “La Equitable del Plata”, which pays homage to the stepped pyramid of Zoser. The case of the former Bank of Boston has the peculiarity of being a building whose style corresponds to the “Spanish Plateresque” style and its front, made in limestone, was carved and brought from the United States for final assembly at the corner of Diagonal and Florida. The former YPF building does not stand out from its neighbors in decorative or ornamental terms, but it is because it is “advanced” in various ways: its first 23,000 square meters were built in concrete in record time, knew how to have its own connection to Subte D for its 6,000 employees and a garden terrace long before imposing the idea of “green rooftops”. The one outside YPF is not the only building of an oil company that has a distinctive feature, since the one built by the Anglo-Dutch Shell took advantage of the vertex generated by the avenue and by Esmeralda so that the plant of its headquarters had the shape of its logo, a seashell. “When asked about the amount of details in all these buildings I think of Nicolás Avellaneda's phrase that says 'nothing is casual in history'. Well, on the North Diagonal, either,” Alleti stressed. Source: Télam

Publication Date: 15/01/2019

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