in december 2004, i was back in buenos aires. i was busy working on my magazine 11-page feature, while most porteños were getting ready for their holidays. i heard that the city would be empty by christmas. my sole local friend, tomás, was looking tied to his new e-commerce business so i couldn’t ask him to help out my assignment. i had no one to consult with, either. i started the project alone from scratch. i looked for local photographers who had done lots of building shots for editorial work on the net. since my magazine, casa brutus, is a design+architecture+fashion journal, the feature had to highlight architectural buenos aires.
i made good progress as i nearly walked my legs off. i hired 3 photographers: javier, who left me for a better job in the middle of the project; after all, he got me pablo for the rest of our shoots and ioana whom i contacted through her web site. (also my digital photos were used. there was no credit, though.) my main focus, decided by my client, casa brutus, was philippe stark’s new design hotel, faena, in puerto madeiro, a redeveloping area. the feature covered from classic and modern to contemporary buenos aires. its topics varied from old and new architecture to trendy spots in palermo.
featuring beautiful architecture such as puente de la mujer, the sculptural bridge designed by the prominent architect, santiago calatrava, seemed impeccable, but the feature needed to contain some interesting story to tell. it was sheer chance that i got a contact of the legenary argentine architect, clorindo testa. i managed to arrange an interview with him. testa is famous for his brutalist buildings (rough concrete & exposing pipes and ducts) but less known than other argentine architects such as cesar pelli and rafael viñoly. he has certain admirers in japan, though. before my interview, i and ioana went down to la plata, 50 km away from the city centre, to do a shoot on casa curutchet, designed by the pioneer of brutalism, le corbusier.
corbu’s house was not particularly well-preserved, however, looked pretty cool. although i like his architecture, i’m not fond of his personality. he was among my heroes when i was an art college student, but once i found that he painted (graffiti) eileen gray’s house without asking her out of petty jealousy about her talent and popularity and the anecdote turned me off. apparently, he was not a big-hearted jolly chap. actually, corbu was clorindo testa’s inspiration. he was also an artist and so is clorindo. in comparison, clorindo is wonderfully bounteous. his smile tells so. i visited him in his office+studio+home on avenida santa fe (just 5 minute-drive from my apartment) after the shoot in la plata.
my interview with the great and, personality-wise, incredibly modest architect gave me such pleasure. clorindo never sounded like he, anchoring himself to his desk chair, was interested in fame or lucrative projects at all. as i asked him some question, he answered it drawing something on his sketch pad with a felt-tip pen, for instance a dinosaur that he personally associated with his work, biblioteca nacional. and porteños love it. we were going to do a shoot there, anyway. to avoid our possible bureaucratic hassle, he kindly wrote a letter to its director, seeking permission to take photos inside the library for ioana and me. that sort of procedure could take weeks or even months.
summer day light in buenos aires is too bright to take photos. so ioana suggested finishing our shoot for the library’s exterior before the sun rose too high. she woke me up at 5:10 am the following morning to get there. the sun was not up yet, we were too early to take photos, however. it was ok. waiting was part of my work, really. ioana tried her best to be helpful, but we both got exhausted from our own kind of perfectionism. all in all, our shoots including banco de londres came off ok. ioana left buenos aires for a long summer break with her little daughter, while i carried on other shoots with javier. when he left me for a prestigious and well-paid job in urguay, pablo took it over from him. then, my 2-month porteña life was over.
i am prone to look back on those days in buenos aires sentimentally, maybe. but i know that, if i had been a plain tourist there, the south american city wouldn’t have stayed on my mind this way.