A Second Look for a New Cycle of Life: From Main Post Office to Bicentennial Cultural Center – Survey and Registry for the Restoration

A Second Look for a New Cycle of Life: From Main Post Office to Bicentennial Cultural Center – Survey and Registry for the Restoration

Ana Ottavianelli (Universidad Nacional de La Plata, Argentina), Eduardo Gentile (Universidad Nacional de La Plata, Argentina) and Florencia Minatta (Universidad Nacional de La Plata, Argentina)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0675-1.ch017
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It is not news that the material life of buildings transcends the function that gave rise to them. This circumstance is the leitmotiv of the rehabilitation and recycling works as part of architectural design practice. In the case of the former headquarters of the Buenos Aires Main Post Office, the development of new means of communication made the traditional postal traffic volume decrease, resulting in an oversized building according to present circumstances. In this context, the need was inevitable – and cultural and technical possibility – to give another meaning to the building, starting a new cycle of social use from a program compatible with its urban and architectural features. The present work refers to the graphic documents of the old substance of the building, focusing on the existing element on which the intervention was planned, with the objective of studying the components on which the conservation, restoration and intervention would develop.
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In April 2005 the Department of Culture and the Ministry of Economy of Argentina launched a national and international ideas contest to find alternatives of use for the building, in the context of the forthcoming celebrations of the Bicentennial of the Mayo Revolution of 1810. From the evaluation of alternatives, a new competition was called (“Llamado a Concurso Internacional”, 2006) the following year for the rehabilitation of the building as the Bicentennial Cultural Center (known as CCB from its acronym in Spanish), to be inaugurated on May 2010, but finally inaugurated five years later.

The original building was designed by the French architect Norbert Maillart, and it is configured based on the clear distinction of two sectors: the first one, which gathers representative spaces with a public character, materialized, according to the vocabulary of French classicism of the second half of the eighteenth century; and the other one, of characteristic utilitarian nature, that had service areas designed within the guidelines of the pragmatism supported by the Beaux-Arts architecture, close to the industrial tradition. The generic and flexible nature of the public spaces allowed them to adapt the building, by character and distribution, to a program different than the original one. These characteristics resulted superlative in the utilitarian sector, enabling it as the principal area of intervention.

Figure 1.

Fourth floor: original architectural plan and ”industrial area”

(1930, foto, CeDIAP´s archive) Edificio para la Casa Central de Correos y Telégrafos. Revista de Arquitectura, Nº75, 108 and B4FS archive)

The intervention designed to transform the old Post Office building into the Bicentennial Cultural Center involved a series of technical operations aimed at providing the new architectural body with safety conditions, contemporary roominess and comfort, according to its new life cycle, preserving the original morphological, typological, spatial, linguistic and original technical traits of the building. Nonetheless, given the nature of National Historic Monument that the building holds by law1, it should be considered that different areas and components had comprehensive protection. Among these components, it stands out the four facades2 and the mansard visible from the public space. In this context, the new intervention had to impact as little as possible the original compositions of the facades, including masonry walls and openings. Furthermore, according to the report by the architects Alberto de Paula and María de las Nieves Arias Incollá, included in the contest rules, the following features must be respected in what the authors called “noble spaces”. They “should retain their typology, spatiality, structure, stairwell and elevators, coatings, flooring, ornamentation, stained glasses, ornamental elements and fixed and mobile equipment, luminaries. In this sector the restoration is mandatory, so this is a highly technical intervention that preserves the character of the building and its components, with all its values”. The conservation and restoration works were concentrated in the more historic and significantly social, and thus patrimonial, spaces (such as the main rooms, vestibules, halls, primary circulation and stairwells and, obviously, the facades). Each one of these components were the subject of different specific technical procedures (for example the recovery of the rendered stone) aimed at rescuing the original nature of materials, techniques and finishes.

Figure 2.

The Post office recently inaugurated (ca. 1928)

(CeDIAP’s archive)

Key Terms in this Chapter

Program: Set of activities and proposed requirements for the design of a building.

Architectural Documentation: All drawings and plans related to the building itself.

Draft: First rapid design made by an architect.

Ornaments: Stone cast or precast concrete elements that embellish the facades.

Components: Each of the elements involved in general and complete design of the building.

Public Work: Buildings commissioned and built by the State.

Mansard: Part of a building located immediately between the highest part of the masonry walls and the roof, with a sloping roof and usually covered with slate.

Architectural Survey: The action of drawing and measuring a building to analyze its characteristics.

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