Urban retreats / urban shelters

DyD Magazine: “Paula, tell us five of your favorite places in Buenos Aires or near Buenos Aires….”

Well, the first thing that comes to mind are my urban retreats, the places I go back to again and again because they welcome me, contain me, offer me a pause, they’re a shelter for me and a hideaway. On a daily basis I work in the city, here and there…and on a daily basis I inhabit those places which I make my own for a while; have a cup of coffee, sit down and work for a while, or enjoy for a while, on a daily basis…. In between meetings here and there, I always find the time for that space naturally. For me it’s vital, it’s an essential part of my activity, of me being an architect, of being able to think and design and find inspiration…

Knowing that I’m going to the project in Barrancas of San Isidro and that I later stop at Bike and Coffee for lemonade…and it welcomes me. Bike and Coffee always welcomes me, shelters me, it’s my place in the city, or better said away from the city…I go back on Saturdays biking with friends, or alone… I go back on Sunday afternoons in winter to read on the enormous and marvelous futon by the chimney which nobody uses ( bashfulness maybe?) and I spread out on the futon and have coffee with milk and watch the fire, and read or draw, or just do nothing…just enjoy the passing time…I always go back to Bike and Coffee…If I have a project nearby, it’s my operations base…and if not, I arrange my schedule in order to stop by there, Peru Street and the train tracks, I’m always well received.

More urban shelters, my retreats: the parks Mujeres Argentinas and Micaela Bastidas in Puerto Madero. Masterfully designed; the topography, the installations, the trees, project of enormous landscape yet always bounded. All places that welcome you, that contain you. You can be alone in the park or there can be a crowd, but you always find your retreat, your “garden”, your bench for reading, or resting. And the view is always defined to a small garden belonging to you for an instant… among the roses or under the poplars, or between the gabion walls with an incredible jasmine perfume…The Micaela Bastidas park and the other: two urban paradises, public space, a gift of good architecture for the city, a gift from the good landscape artists and designers to the city, to those of us who live the city, who use it, enjoy it, think it, and dream it. Citizens of Buenos Aires grateful for these marvelous public parks. Just try it: wake up early on a sunny autumn Sunday morning, take your bike or car, the paper, a book, a notebook…or your wife, your dog, your son or your boyfriend…go to the Mujeres Argentinas park, find a spot that inspires you and make it yours for a while, make it your garden, enjoy it; the smells, the spots, the view of the sky amidst the poplars…a paradise at your reach. Public space of the good kind, the necessary kind. Essential public space.

I continue: the Malba bookshop, and Proa’s too. Especially the bookshop of Proa Foundation. It is true that you have to get there, but once you’re in La Boca, inside Proa, in the library I feel at home. Walls of books, and the textured wooden floor, and the immense views to this side of the city. All the chaotic simultaneity outside the window. And on this side the enormous white table that invites you to stay, grab some books and browse through them as if they were your own. On the outside, the border: the Riachuelo. The border: the still contaminating chimneys. The border: the other river, the constant river of cars and trucks on the bridges. And the Riachuelo, that border. All this is breathed at Proa, all the chaotic and beautiful city. All the history, the old and the new: the history and the story. Words that are similar but with such different meanings. Here, Proa today continues to narrate the “story”, the present of today, the artists of today, the books of today. Bookshops always attract me. Especially museum bookshops. In Buenos Aires, Chicago, or Achao…

And the trees of Buenos Aires, do they count as a place? I imagine they do. Well, the trees, my trees…the ones I’ve gotten to know, the ones I’ve learned to recognize. Each year a new species in the city appears before my eyes. “Appears” I mean, actually enamors me, suddenly I see it. Perception is always partial. I only see that which attracts me, enamors me, inspires me… In this way, each year my eyes discover a new tree in Buenos Aires. At the moment? The beautiful araucarias. With their arms outstretched towards the sky, smiling. At the moment I only see araucarias. I had a moment with the chinaberry trees, best in winter. The chinaberry trees are more beautiful in winter. And the gingkoes in autumn. What a beauty the incredibly yellow gingkoes in autumn. And the sweetgum trees on the streets of San Isidro, red and purple in autumn as well. And the rosewood trees. The rosewood trees of Libertador Avenue. The giant rosewood that frames my house, that invades my windows, my balcony. Definitely the tree trunk of the immense rosewood at my window is completely inspiring.

Hard to define a fifth place, and finish off my list of inspiring places in Buenos Aires. Arbitrarily I choose the last of my favorites: the MARQ and its garden. The MARQ – Architecture museum building was the old water tower of the Retiro area. In the city, yet at the city border. Again, “in between”… The small triangular block where the four-story brick tower is situated lives where Callao Avenue dies in Libertador Avenue. In the city yet on the border, on the other side of the river of cars between the city and the Retiro area. The museum is the place where architects and designers gather for many exhibitions, meeting place with friends from the profession, from life, from doings. The bounded garden with views towards the city is magical, the tower is magical inside and out. Each time I visit the MARQ the same thought crosses my mind: how nice that this building is our museum of architecture, but… how great it would be if it were my home.

 Paula Herrero – May 2012