Le Corbusier, in an undated picture Plan for Buenos Aires
Seen from the ship, Buenos Aires was a line between the infinity of its coastline and the pampas. This nostalgic look was a rebirth for Le Corbusier. The father of modern architecture arrived in the Argentine capital in 1929 looking for a new opportunity. Branded a bourgeois by the Soviet Union and the Germany that wanted to embrace Adolf Hitler, ignored in Paris in his eagerness to tear down and rebuild the city, and with less and less influence among the architects he had produced, the city was in the Falling between two infinities became his obsession. Over the next 20 years, Le Corbusier would develop a reform plan, encountering one of the most turbulent periods in his history: the Great Depression, the country’s first coup d’état and the rise of General Juan Domingo Peron.
“All the cities in the world are sick. And today, like everyone else, Buenos Aires is suffering from the consequences of 100 years of misguided urban developments,” wrote the architect upon his arrival in the Argentine capital. He was invited by the Association of Friends of Art and by the writer Victoria Ocampo, a luminary of the bourgeoisie and the culture of the time, who had promised him a pedestal and fertile ground for his work. But the architect confused her. In the ten lectures he gave in the city, Le Corbusier observed that Buenos Aires was sick, “driven into paralysis and urban chaos by its vitality”. With no intention of building homes for Argentina’s burgeoning upper class, he embarked on a mission nobody asked him for: a plan to reform the city.
“Le Corbusier foresaw the catastrophe. Ideas are always controversial, but he saw a problem in the way the city was inhabited and thought of a solution,” says film director Gerardo Panero (Chivilcoy, 1980), whose latest documentary is In the Architect’s Footsteps the city follows This has become his obsession. The documentary Plan for Buenos Aires opens with a vision of a built city turning its back on its flow and a Le Corbusier who, after a failed plan to rebuild Paris, sees Buenos Aires as the ideal ground to reformulate his ideas. Four years before arriving in Argentina, the architect had developed the Voisin plan, with which he proposed demolishing a large part of Paris in order to construct huge buildings surrounded by green spaces. Since he had no place for his clean slate in Paris, he thought he had found it in the young Argentine capital.
One of Le Corbusier’s drawings projecting the modernization of Buenos Aires, seen from the La Pata River. Plan for Buenos Aires
It took Le Corbusier no more than a few weeks in Buenos Aires to recognize the problems that are now worsening: the city’s disregard for the seafront, a runaway, oversaturated urban fabric, and a deserted industrial south, that of central development and the city faces north. Through interviews and the few sketches and freehand drawings that Le Corbusier left as a legacy of his plan, Panero reveals the three moments in which the architect collided with Argentine reality: Le Corbusier and his fleeting romance with the elite of the 1920s; Le Corbusier seeking the approval of General José Félix Uriburu’s coup government in 1930; and Le Corbusier snubbed by the Perón who reformed Buenos Aires with his five-year plans in the late 1940s.
The failure of his only trip to Argentina would take revenge eight years later. In Paris, two young Argentinian architects, Jorge Ferrari Hardoy and Juan Kurchan, knocked on the door of his studio to ask him to be their intern. Le Corbusier had her work on his city map together with the Catalan Antonio Bonet, who, with roots in Argentina, wanted to bring the ideas of European modernism back to Latin America.
Alongside New York, Le Corbusier regarded Buenos Aires as a lighthouse city in America. Both are depicted in this drawing, which he made during his stay in the Argentine capital. Map for Buenos Aires
The Austral Group that arose from these desires was a coalition of architects, artists and industrialists who wanted to reform the cities through manifestos and with a sharp political stance. One of the key voices in the documentary, architect Jorge Francisco Liernur, who wrote the group’s story, recalls that this made Le Corbusier uncomfortable, who urged his students to calm down: “He tells them to hold their hands , not wave.” The French architect wants governments to hire him, not bother him.
Ferrari Hardoy, Kurchan and Bonet published their own plan without Le Corbusier’s approval. The arrival of Perón in the Argentine government finally led to the rupture of the relationship between the teacher and his students: the general wanted a city plan for Buenos Aires and the architects, summoned by his Minister of Public Works, Guillermo Borda, saved his plan without room for teachers.
“Political offers and political reality have a lot to do with his distancing from the final project,” says Panero. “Whoever has power, I think, ultimately wants to control absolutely everything. There is a crash there. The second is a reality that is outside of our time: communication has not been the same and the passage of time is heavier. When decisions had to be made, they knew it would take three months to reply to a letter… I think a lot of that tarnished the relationship.”
The original plan was buried, but Le Corbusier’s influence can still be found in Buenos Aires today: Puerto Madero and its skyscrapers represent the “City of Business”, which the architect envisioned as an extension outside the city in the middle of the city Flow. . The social housing of the first Peronism, as well as the later extensions of the avenues and the motorway network, refer to the original idea.
However, its large presence in Argentina has nothing to do with the city. In 1949, while his students were remodeling the city alongside Peronism, Le Corbusier completed his only commission in Latin America: the Curutchet House. The family home that the architect designed for surgeon Pedro Curutchet was completed in 1953. Le Corbusier designed it from Paris and never visited the finished work.
“Plan for Buenos Aires”, in Madrid
After premiering at the Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival in 2022, the documentary will be screened on March 15 at the Casa de América in Madrid.
Subscribe to the EL PAÍS America newsletter here and receive all the latest news from the region