posted by CAA — Sep 09, 2015
Fernando Martínez Nespral is a professor in the School of Architecture, Design, and Urbanism at the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina and a participant in the 2014 CAA-Getty International Program.
This past July, there was a thought-provoking exhibition on view in Buenos Aires at the Museo de Arquitectura y Diseño (Museum of Architecture and Design), known as MARQ. Titled Secciones, this collection of drawings by Santiago Nicolás Lovecchio added a lively local commentary to the form versus function debate in architecture.
MARQ was founded by the Central Society of Architects to explore the architecture of Argentina, from its history and heritage to contemporary issues and projects. It is the first museum in the country dedicated specifically to architecture, and its activities have continued to grow since it opened fifteen years ago. The museum is situated in an old railway building on the Avenida del Libertador, sharing the Buenos Aires Museum Mile with the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Museum of Fine Arts), Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo (National Museum of Decorative Arts), Museo de Arte Hispanoamericano (Museum of Spanish American Art), and Museo de Arte Latinoamericano (Museum of Latin American Art), among others.
Lovecchio’s exhibition presented a series of digitally enhanced pencil and ink sectional drawings of detailed plans for imaginary buildings. Each one juxtaposes clear references to landmarks of architectural history with the typical shapes and traditional forms of domestic architecture in Buenos Aires.
This local perspective on history makes sense when we consider the biography of its author. Lovecchio is a young Argentine who combines his work as a practicing architect with his teaching of architectural history. In this exhibition, he courageously addressed a subject that is at the center of academic discussions about architecture in Argentina today. I am referring to the Dwelling Theory, which favors the analysis of architecture as a setting for the activities of those who live in the buildings, rather than the study of forms.
Thus, in Ninfeo, Lovecchio includes straightforward references to Italian grottos. Similarly, in Casa para dos caballos/caballeros (House for Two Horses/Knights) and especially Casa para dos señoritas bienudas (House for Two Distinguished Ladies), he includes elements reminiscent of the interior spaces in Sir John Soane’s Museum in London. Particularly in the latter two cases, references to the architecture, customs, and lifestyles of Argentina’s upper classes in the early twentieth century come to light with remarkable vividness. They harken back to the Anchorena Palace (now the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and the Errázuriz Palace (now the National Museum of Decorative Arts), both examples of upper-class residences in Buenos Aires.
The academic, monumental architecture that characterizes the heritage of Buenos Aires, as seen in the abovementioned drawings, is also evident in Invernadero (Greenhouse) and the fabulous Casa cúpulas (House of Domes). But the most attractive element in these imaginary architectural studies is the critical irony that seeps lucidly through Lovecchio’s drawings. Different eras, designs, and ways of living are superimposed and reveal new perspectives and interpretations of the past and present.
The work El porteño burguesón (The Buenos Aires Bourgeoisie) starkly displays—as only sectional drawings do—the intimacies of the typical apartments and apartment dwellers of Buenos Aires’s middle class, and it combines these traditional, conservative forms with an oneiric artificial cloud of glass polygons that recall complex underground mechanisms and outdated boilers from the Industrial Revolution.
But in my opinion, La manzana porteña (Buenos Aires City Block) is where the architecture of Buenos Aires is most starkly illuminated. The drawing shows the miseries of real-estate speculation and its promise of Patios de aire y luz (Courtyards for Air and Light), as we say here—that do not provide either—along with the chaos of cables, air conditioners, and tiny windows that coexist with modest traditional houses from a previous era that are still part of our time.
The title of the exhibition, Secciones, alludes to the structural cross sections depicted in the drawings, but in Spanish, sectional drawings are called cortes (cuts, or slices). So the choice of the word secciones undoubtedly refers to the idea that Lovecchio’s sections show more than just buildings. His drawings explore nuances, complexities, and contrasts that exceed traditional interpretations of architecture.
In sum, Lovecchio’s works bring a bold, young, and specifically Argentine point of view to the ever-present idea of the “complexity and contradiction of contemporary architecture” that Robert Venturi wisely warned us about almost half a century ago.