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Notes on the Geography of Argentina: Puerto Madero

Passengers arriving in Buenos Aires in 1890 tied up at a long pier sticking out into the Rio de la Plata. It was hopelessly inadequate, and so a battle ensued between a local, highly qualified engineer named Luis Huergo and a local businessman, Eduardo Madero, who enjoyed British support. Madero relied in particular on an eminent British engineer, Sir John Hawkshaw. The name, Puerto Madero, tells the story, but if Huergo lost the battle, he lived long enough to win the war.

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Argentina: Puerto Madero picture 1

Madero's plan--really Hawkshaw's--was modelled on the port of Liverpool, where Hawkshaw as a young man had worked with Jesse Hartley. Anyone who has seen Hartley's work at Liverpool will recognize Hawkshaw's debt. In essence, Buenos Aires got a harbor consisting of four rectangular pools, each measuring about 500 feet by 2,000 and lined with warehouses.

Argentina: Puerto Madero picture 2

Here's the line-up of some of those warehouses on the landward side.

Argentina: Puerto Madero picture 3

And here's the gate connecting one of the pools to the next. All four are in a single straight line. All are rimmed in cyclopean stone, and all, of course, were almost instantly obsolete in an age where ships continued to grow.

Argentina: Puerto Madero picture 4

Puerto Madero opened in 1900 and had to be replaced by World War I. The replacement, the Puerto Nuevo, consisted of four diagonal docks cut into the shore just north of Puerto Madero: their profile is basically what Huergo had proposed 20 years earlier. Puerto Madero fell into a long slump. What to do? The answer, ironically, was to redevelop the port along the same festive-retail lines adopted in postwar Liverpool.

Argentina: Puerto Madero picture 5

Restaurants, museums, shops: the usual suspects. To manage it al, the government in 1989 created the Old Puerto Madero Corporation, with authority over 170 hectares. Some of that land had none of the visual appeal of the waterfront, so office space was included, too, including the project's office, completed in 2010 and seen here in the distance. Space in the building is also rented to ICBC (the Chinese bank), Chevron, and (while it lasted) DowDuPont.

Argentina: Puerto Madero picture 6

It's pretty standard stuff. The cranes have been retained to give a little pizzazz.

Argentina: Puerto Madero picture 7

At the far north of the set of docks, you can see the modern container port that's evolved at the Nuevo Port. You can also see (but it's hard to get to from here) the city's yacht club, designed by the same Eduardo la Monnier who did the dome-topped office building on the downtown diagonal. Yes, the tower is a lighthouse. The club dates from 1882; this building from 1911.

Argentina: Puerto Madero picture 8

Close as I can get.

Argentina: Puerto Madero picture 9

The opposite side of the four pools has the flashiest part of Buenos Aires: all new, all slick.

Argentina: Puerto Madero picture 10

Here's the zoomed view from the statue of Juan de Garay. One of the docks is between us and the buildings. Beyond the buildings is a large artificial island now an ecological reserve but composed of rubble brought in and dumped largely from the buildings destroyed during the construction of the Avenida 9 de Julio.

Argentina: Puerto Madero picture 11

An architectural historian puts her cards on the table: "In Puerto Madero, the official language--if the term is allowed--is expressed in a tendency toward the neutral..."

Claudia Shmidt in Jorge F. Kiernur, ed., Puerto Madero Waterfront, 2007, p. 91.

Argentina: Puerto Madero picture 12

Welcome to the twin Torres del Yacht. We barbecue on the balcony.

Argentina: Puerto Madero picture 13

A realtor offers alternatives in Miami.

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