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Fabio Grementieri on Modernism in Argentina

An architect and preservationist based in Buenos Aires, Fabio Grementieri is a member of the National Commission of Monuments of Argentina and Head of the Preservation Program at Torcuato Di Tella University. He has worked on various restoration projects and has written several books on the heritage of Argentina. He was a speaker at the Fifth International Iconic Houses Conference in New Canaan. His lecture can be watched in the (below) link.

Preserving the Gems: Four Houses of Eclectic Argentine Modernity
 

At the conference, you present four case studies. What do they tell us about Modernism in Argentina?
Mainly that the heritage is so rich and varied - they are enormously different in terms of style, being inspired by different schools. There’s very little indigenous influence. Argentinian Modernism is a melting pot of influences from Europe.

How would you describe the conservation background in your country?
Neglectful - there was little concern about preserving modern heritage up until the 1990s, when the advent of Docomomo started to change things. As in most countries in Latin America, the general public has not tended to regard Modern architecture, especially Brutalism, as heritage. Luckily, that is now shifting.

What is causing the change?
Over the past few years, the Professional Council of Architects in Buenos Aires has launched a campaign to increase awareness of Modernism in the city, through lectures, films, documentaries, and so on. It all helps people to see that Modern architecture is also a part of heritage. As that awareness increases, it gets easier to protect buildings. For example, the renovation of Victoria Ocampo’s house, the first Modern building in Buenos Aires, has almost been completed. It’s an important moment.

What’s your favorite Modern house in Argentina?
The Casa in La Falda by Wladimiro Acosta, a Russian Bauhaus architect who came to Argentina in the late 1920s. He built only four houses, using a system he called Helios, a reference to the sun. Sure enough the design uses the sun to generate heat or to avoid overheating, as appropriate. The house is therefore very sustainable and ahead of its time. It’s one of the houses I will discuss at the conference.

Why is it so important to preserve Modern houses?
Because they were the first architectural experiments in Modernism. They were built by architects who had found patrons who finally allowed them to materialize their revolutionary ideas.

How can Iconic Houses help in Latin America?
By bringing together a network of important Modern houses.

Are you optimistic about the future?
I’m a member of the National Commission for Monuments. For the last two years, we have been designating Modern buildings from up to the 1960s as part of our national heritage. Such listings began in the 1990s, but we have been able to greatly accelerate them. So yes, this is a good time - although it’s difficult to raise money for projects, attitudes are changing. I’m hopeful that Modernism will finally be seen as an important chapter of architectural history in Argentina.

Fabio recommends watching this trailer of the documentary Victoria Ocampo’s House as a warm up for the conference.

Jane Szita

Photo: Fabio with Casa en La Falda by Wladimiro Acosta (Cordoba, Argentina) in the background.

Publication date 13 March 2018