10
Nov
2011

buenos aires: inside the kavanagh

[Orignally written as two posts on 13 Mar 2008 & 15 Mar 2008. Certainly one of my great architecture experiences in Buenos Aires.]

Don’t be jealous… although you should be.

The Kavanagh is a Holy Grail to architecture buffs worldwide, & I scored a visit inside today. The building administration was adamant about not taking photos in public areas. Did I listen? We were chastised several times, & I wouldn’t want the person who granted us access to get into trouble. She lives there after all. But how could I resist?

My regular readers know I’m moving to Sydney soon—too soon it seems—and by an odd coincidence the father of my best friend’s partner just spent a week in Buenos Aires. He’s a big-time architect, so he toured lots of secret places in Buenos Aires including the restoration works in the Teatro Colón. We were scheduled to get together today, & he fortunately included me on a visit to the Kavanagh.

If you think it’s amazing from the outside, it’s just as spectacular inside. Imagine having your chauffeur drop you off at the revolving doors as you make a grand entrance:

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Edificio Kavanagh

Walking past a portrait of Corina Kavanagh, inset light fixtures lead you toward the lobby:

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Edificio Kavanagh

A rather dark space with original poofy, curved chairs & inset desks, the walls are covered with squares of thin leather. No kidding. Light enters both sides through fanfolds… one side is clear glass & the other is a mirror. The combined effect brings lots of light into an otherwise dark space:

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Edificio Kavanagh

The drive-thru entrance mentioned above is actually closed these days, probably to keep the interested public out. Everyday entrances are along the sides with light fixtures that resemble stretched slices of the building. How sexy is this:

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Edificio Kavanagh

The hallway which leads down the Plaza San Martín side of the building is covered in original wood with lots of mirrors, more beautiful glass light fixtures, & an etched glass mural. Not sure why they chose a northern Argentina desert scene, but it’s beautiful nonetheless:

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Edificio Kavanagh

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Edificio Kavanagh

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Edificio Kavanagh

At the end of the hallway is a decorative bust set into a niche—one of several on the ground floor level. And tucked away into a dead-end corner is a sculpted model of the entire building. It just makes you appreciate it even more:

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Edificio Kavanagh

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Edificio Kavanagh

From there, you’d take the appropriate Otis elevator to your apartment. Each apartment has its own private entrance via this elevator. What’s cool is that the grill doors close automatically… quite an innovation for 1936:

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Edificio Kavanagh

Stepping out of the elevator is a small square space with display board & etched glass to let you know what floor you’re on:

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Edificio Kavanagh

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Edificio Kavanagh

The apartments are actually rather plain & simple, but the floor plan makes up for it. The apartment we visited was at the tip of a “V” with rooms on both sides, so the views were amazing… except for the smog. The mail slot had been painted over since, but it’s an interesting addition.

I also had a lingering question finally answered. The building was one of the first of its kind with central air-conditioning (hence the low ceiling in the second foto below), but these days A/C units cover the exterior. I always wondered why. Turns out the Carrier unit was too complicated to repair when it stopped working a few decades ago:

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Edificio Kavanagh

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Edificio Kavanagh

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Edificio Kavanagh

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Edificio Kavanagh

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Edificio Kavanagh

Moreso than the river views or treetops of Plaza San Martín, it was the roof of the Basílica del Santísimo Sacramento that blew me away. I had never seen the detailing on the top before… with the Edificio Alas in the background to boot:

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Edificio Kavanagh

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Edificio Kavanagh

The entire April 1936 edition of the trade digest Nuestra Arquitectura was dedicated to the Kavanagh, & the apartment owner had a copy. It’s full of floor plans & reasons to move into this most modern of buildings. The CIAE provided electricity at a discounted rate for tenants. That’s reason enough for me to buy an apartment there… & quite a coincidence since former Econ Minister Martínez de Hoz directed the CIAE, sold it for an exorbitant price & lived in the building. He was placed under house arrest in 2010 for other crimes related to the dictatorship & even died inside the Kavanagh in 2013:

Buenos Aires, Retiro, Edificio Kavanagh

Dictatorship stories aside, this was another great experience thanks to the generosity of people here. Thanks for the invite!

Comments ( 10 )
  • Stephen Page says:

    A beautiful building indeed. There is a short story collection written by Esther Cross entitled “Kavanagh,” that is well-written and contains fictional stories about the residents of the building.

  • Fede says:

    Espero que el señor no tenga apellido Lavenfiche jejeje.

    lindo articulo y fotos! todo un emblema de baires que seguirá vigente para la posteridad. que suerte que hayas podido visitarlo.

    • Robert says:

      Jajajaja No, no fue el… arruinó el piso más grande con sus “reformas.” Quedó horrible. Si ves en las fotos que saqué, hay una que se ve una terraza desde arriba… ese es el piso de Lavenfiche. Hace años que quiere venderlo. Como me gustaria vivir en el Kavanagh…

  • Fede says:

    hacemos una vaquita y lo compramos ahora que rebajó su precio! :P

  • az says:

    Great report — I’m curious about the floor plans to see the apartment layouts. Do you have access to any?
    Nice pictures,

    Andrew

    • Robert says:

      Thanks, Andrew! If you do an image search in Google for “plano edificio kavanagh” quite a number of floor plans appear (from Flickr, I believe). If you have trouble finding them, let me know & I’ll see what I can find. Saludos!

  • az says:

    Robert,
    I found them and made a pdf.. Very interesting to see the layouts. I will study further. Do you know what the cladding (skin) of the building is?
    Thanks for your reply,
    Cheers,
    Andrew

  • Robert says:

    The building is reinforced concrete, one of the first skyscrapers in Latin America. Those kind of designations are always tricky, but it was definitely the first of its kind in Buenos Aires. Also it was the first in BA with central air conditioning… but eventually the generator stopped functioning, they couldn’t fix it & people began installing window units. They still plague the building!!

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