A freelance journalist specializing in architecture debuts with a general architectural history of one of the world’s most intriguing cities.
Gardner, once the art critic for the New York Post, first visited Buenos Aires in 1999 and fell in love with the architectural diversity of the city. He acknowledges that his is not a scholarly approach, but it’s evident throughout that he has done a scholar’s homework. The author does some expected things—e.g., writing about the geographical and geological history of the pampas and a bit about the political history of the city, which both caused and is reflected by many of the city’s structures. Gardner notes that the city’s flatness encouraged the earliest settlers to lay out a strict grid with wide streets, an outline that remains. Proceeding chronologically, the author includes numerous photographs (readers will wish for more—and for city maps, which are oddly absent). His approach is generally more expository that judgmental, though he does not hesitate to praise the beautiful and disdain the less so, and he reserves some special venom for the historical period (last century) when dictators ruled and misruled. He necessarily deals with some economic history, as well, noting the slave markets from centuries past and showing how the country’s economy accelerated when refrigerated shipping made possible the lucrative trade in cattle. He also shows Argentina and its capital as hosts to myriads of immigrants. Although the author discusses some architectural terminology—beaux-arts, modernism, and the brutalist style—he is careful to explain and to give examples. At one point, commenting on the architectural beauty of much of the city, he comments that even the brothels were stylish. He describes waterfront development, the arrival of the railroad, and the building of the marginally necessary subway.
A genial historical tour conducted by an affectionate docent with a keen eye and an admiring though sometimes-admonitory message.