The CIAE ensured that Juan Chiogna’s Romanesque Revival spread throughout Buenos Aires plus its southern suburbs & remains a distinct feature of the entire urban area. Buildings appeared on three scales & larger structures had more decorative elements. The largest of Chiogna’s works was the first generator complex in La Boca, the Usina Pedro de Mendoza. Initially a 3-story rectangular structure in 1915, it occupied approximately one-quarter of the city block with the street façade decorated by a tower on one end & an ochava office entrance on the other:
One year later a machine room was added to the right of the original tower, so the complex took an “L” form. This addition can be seen under restoration behind former mayor Jorge Telerman (second from right). Besides gaining an extra structure, the complex had a more decorative service entrance:
Expansion continued by adding a second tower (with a terracotta tile rooftop), an interior vehicle path to connect both service entrances & one more building on the opposite side of the street:
In 1926 the complex was further enlarged along Caffarena Street, maintaining Chiogna’s original style. This final expansion added more space, a clock tower & a “patio of honor.” The flagship of the CIAE is even more impressive considering that at this point it became a complete complex occupying half of the city block:
In 1928 a smaller substation was built across the street by an unknown architect, but whoever designed the space for five extra generators & cable storage followed Chiogna’s lead. Maybe a little excessive on the decoration compared to the original complex, but it adds a bit of fantasy. Apologies for the horrible photo… bad light, no time to return:
Saved from demolition when the Buenos Aires-La Plata highway was built next to it, the city government began to show interest in the building in the year 2000. Destined to become the Usina de la Música, basic clean-up & restoration took place from 2001 to 2005. The 2006 purchase price was $5.6 million pesos (U$S 1.8 million at the time). Major works began in 2007 under the Telerman administration with an estimated budget of 55 million pesos (currently U$S 14 million), but it’s anyone’s guess as to when the National Symphony & the Buenos Aires Philharmonic will be able to move in. Supposedly over 70% of the work is completed & sometime this year it will open to the public. The largest auditorium will have 1,600 seats, another will have 500 & the rehearsal hall will hold 250:
While the city waits for the complete space to open, the second tower houses one of the locations for the Fundación Julio Bocca. The building has also been used for the occasional publicity shot:
Update (11 Jun 2012): Although installations are not 100% complete, the Usina del Arte officially opened to the public last month. Five years after works began, the name change reflects a broader use for the former power plant than just a concert venue. Guided tours are available on weekends —at least for this month— finally giving everyone a chance to peek inside.
The exterior has been cleaned, windows repaired & Chiogna’s characteristic brickwork truly shines:
A room directly beneath the clock tower will eventually become the ticket office:
One of the usina‘s most distinctive features is the grand staircase & pulpit, used by supervisors to give daily orders to workmen… at least that’s what the guide said. She also retold the myth that the CIAE was a Swiss company, so the pulpit may have been just an interesting decorative touch. What she did not point out is the pulpit’s decoration: an eagle clutching lightning bolts. A coat-of-arms bears the text “Domito fulmine“: Latin for “lightning subdued.” A wonderful phrase not found on any other CIAE structure:
The interior has been completely gutted, but the original crane remains. The crane’s plaque reads: Norsk Elektris** Brown Boveri, Kristiania Noruega, Carga útil 45000 kilos, 1914. Support columns for the plant’s former five turbines will become gallery space:
Above, there’s an interesting piece of permanent art, some original decorative balconies & CIAE logos everywhere:
Since the Fundación Julio Bocca moved to the Centro Cultural Borges in the city center, the Museo del Cine now occupies the building adjacent to the usina:
Although we weren’t allowed to see the practice chamber & a smaller concert venue, the main concert hall was impressive. Acoustics were fantastic, & zero noise from the highway immediately outside filtered through. They’ve done a very nice job, & one of the tour members stated: “Esto es el primer mundo!” Had to laugh at that.
Although their track record is questionable, I think the city government has done a very good job with the recovery & reuse of Chiogna’s greatest work. The interior seemed a bit barren… in general I like clean & austere, but there seemed to be something missing. However, I can imagine the public & promotional pieces adding life & spark to the building. Looking forward to hearing a performance in the future!
CIAE series: Electricity timeline • Precedent & foundation • Swiss holding companies • Architecture 1 2 3 4 • Expansion • Scandal • Fade to black • Building list • Bibliography
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