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Outrage: Argentinian Modernism lying in neglect

Marcel Breuer’s Parador Ariston, lying in ruins, is just one of many derelict Argentinian Modernist gems to save

Parador ariston mar del plata argentina marcel breuer neglect architectural review2

Parador ariston mar del plata argentina marcel breuer neglect architectural review2

Marcel Breuer’s only work in Latin America languishes, a shadow of its former self, on the outskirts of the Argentinian coastal city of Mar del Plata. The current state of the Parador Ariston is one of many sad examples of how Argentinian attitudes towards cultural patrimony have allowed buildings to reach an advanced state of disrepair. 

It also reflects a city of mixed fortunes: once a highly desirable holiday destination for the Argentinian upper classes, Mar del Plata was then popularised by the Peronist government of the 1940s, which supported initiatives for unions to build hotels for their workers. It was consequently shunned by the elite who in later years favoured the Uruguayan coastline.

‘To answer why the building has been allowed to fall into such disrepair requires a deep understanding of the country’s complex psyche’

Mar del Plata boasts an impressive architectural legacy, from the Tudor- and Norman-inspired mansions commissioned by wealthy Argentinian families from the 1900s to the ’30s, to Alejandro Bustillo’s 1948 Gran Hotel Provincial and the neighbouring Casino complex. Modernism also left its mark – Casa del Puente, designed by Le Corbusier’s friend Amancio Williams, is possibly one of Argentina’s most outstanding examples of the movement.    

In 1947, Eduardo Catalano – then a recent graduate of the University of Buenos Aires – invited Marcel Breuer to Argentina to give a series of talks. During his visit, Catalano proposed a collaboration with Carlos Coire to design a clubhouse in the Serena beach area on the outskirts of Mar del Plata. Breuer promptly drew a four-leaf clover on a paper napkin, the premise for Parador Ariston’s characteristic design. The construction was carried out over two months and opened in February 1948. The Ariston featured two floors connected by a central spiral staircase, with a café on the ground floor complete with piano bar and polished aluminium dance floor, boasting 360-degree panoramic views. 

Originally built as a social hub in which passing travellers and locals could dine and dance to live music, the Ariston suffered a series of modifications, with an extension on one side interrupting the symmetrical clover shape. The staff outhouse was completely demolished, while the main building was converted into a nightclub, then a fast-food diner, and ultimately shut down and left to decay; it has been exposed to the elements for the last three decades. 

Parador ariston mar del plata argentina marcel breuer neglect architectural review

Parador ariston mar del plata argentina marcel breuer neglect architectural review

Source: Vicente Muñoz

On the outskirts of Mar del Plata in Argentina, the Parador Ariston was a 1948 collaboration between Hungarian Modernist Marcel Breuer and Argentinian architects Eduardo Catalano and Carlos Coire. After becoming a nightclub, then a fast-food restaurant, the Ariston was abandoned and left to decay. A shadow of its former self, there is new hope for its restoration

Recently however, a Save the Ariston Facebook page and a change.org petition were launched, alongside ongoing requests from the local community to award the building listed status. The centenary of the foundation of the Bauhaus saw the Ariston included in an extensive feature in the New York Times. Yet this did not lead to any concrete advances locally. Earlier this year, I tracked down the building’s proprietors and signed a legally binding contract which gave exclusive rights for six months to acquire the building by raising the US$300,000 asking price. Through a new foundation, and continued crowdfunding, the building can then be restored and its future secured. 

To answer why the building has been allowed to fall into such disrepair requires a deep understanding of the country’s complex psyche – a country which still aspires to follow in the footsteps of its European ‘founders’, which often discredits anything local as second rate. The Ariston is the ultimate irony: a building designed in collaboration with a famous European architect, yet its location on the outskirts of Mar del Plata has meant it has been largely forgotten and overlooked. A shift in priorities following many decades of financial crisis has led to the widely held belief that education and decent salaries should be the priority, and projects such as this represent a waste of state money. 

‘The building has been exposed to the elements for the last three decades’

Restorations of Modernist buildings in Argentina have had varying degrees of success. The Teatro San Martín in Buenos Aires by Mario Roberto Álvarez from 1960 underwent an extensive refurbishment in 2016, including modifications for disabled access, energy-saving LED lighting and meticulous work by skilled craftsmen. The Casa Curutchet in La Plata, Le Corbusier’s only building in Latin America, was restored in 1988 and now houses the Buenos Aires association of architects. But despite being categorised as a National Historic Monument and given UNESCO World Heritage status, the house requires constant funding for its upkeep and could be in better shape for a building of its calibre. 

The Ariston restoration project, financed through crowdfunding and private investment, will not only lighten the financial burden on local government, but it might be the most effective way of changing the city’s fortunes, attracting tourism and bringing development to the surrounding area. Amancio Williams’ nearby Casa del Puente, also left derelict for years after suffering vandalism and an arson attack, was recently acquired by the state and is only now slowly being restored with limited public funding. To carry out a philanthropic endeavour in a country with rampant corruption and an ongoing financial crisis (current annual inflation stands at 50 per cent) may sound like lunacy, yet it is in adversity that Argentinians join forces and act with solidarity.

This piece is featured in the AR December 2019/January 2020 issue on New into Old and Preservation – click here to buy your copy today