In the second half of the 19th century, the city of Buenos Aires began to grow rapidly, receiving successive waves of migration. The progressive increase in population brought with it the problems of overcrowding and the lack of preparation of public services to supply an increasing number of people.
It was then that epidemics began to abound: in 1867 cholera killed 1,500 people, in 1869 typhoid killed 500, and in 1871 the historic yellow fever epidemic occurred that claimed 14,000 of the 178,000 people who lived in Buenos Aires.
Faced with the alarming consequences of the deficient drinking water system, the authorities of the newly unified country made the decision to supply the city with an advanced running water network, taking advantage of a time of economic abundance and prosperity. Following the plans of the English civil engineer John Bateman in 1886, the national government decided that the water tank would be installed in the northern area of the city, as it was the highest, and it would be provided with underground pipes. With the desire for the warehouse building to be a lavish building, its budget reached 5,531,000 pesos.
The company Bateman, Parsons & Bateman was in charge of the project, and soon it was decided to privatize the sanitation works due to the lack of State funds. Thus, later, the company Samuel B. Hale and Co. took charge of the work, awarding the work on the exterior façade to Juan B. Médici, led by the engineer Nyströmer and the architect Boye (at that time employees of Bateman , Parsons & Bateman).
The works began in 1887, employed 400 workers and finished in 1894. The building, located in the block of Av. Córdoba (1950), Riobamba (750), Viamonte and Ayacucho, in the Balvanera neighborhood, was inaugurated in at that time, by President Luis Sáenz Peña.
This emblematic Palacio de Aguas Corrientes was the most important water tank on the continent. On its three levels, it contains 12 water tanks with a total capacity of 72 million liters of water, with a calculated weight of 135,000 tons. These are supported by a supporting structure of beams, columns and metal trusses. The walls are up to 1.80 meters thick, and support the 180 columns, spaced six meters apart. In the center of the palace, an internal patio provides light and air to the rooms.
References and Photographs:
De HalloweenHJB (photo) Carl Nyströmer (1856–1913) and Olaf Boye (1864–1933) (building) - Fotografía propia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16148346
De Beatrice Murch - originally posted to Flickr as Pipes, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7178487
De José María Pérez Nuñez from Buenos Aires, Argentina - Palacio de Obras SanitariasUploaded by ecemaml, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6628417
The facades are covered with more than 130 thousand glazed bricks and 170 thousand pieces of ceramics that were specially manufactured in Belgium and England. These were a fundamental complement to hide the tanks, which were considered lacking beauty. For its dome and mansard roofs, slates brought from Sedan, France were used. And the doors were made with cedar wood brought from Paraguay.
In 1974, the building was partially demolished for a comprehensive renovation of the institution. In its original state, only the façade on Av. Córdoba and on Riobamba and Ayacucho streets, two sectors of the fronts, remain. Small gardens surround them, closed by a remarkable ironwork fence that rests on masonry pillars. Within the eclectic current, this design reflects neo-Gothic influences, ogives and crenellated walls.
Successively, the deposit was operated by Obras Sanitarias de la Nación (which located its offices there around 1930), then by Aguas Argentinas and Agua y Saneamientos Argentinos (Aysa), currently. In 1989, by decree 325, the Aguas Corrientes Palace was transformed into a National Historical Monument.
The building is one of the most exuberant in Buenos Aires, and a sample of the eclectic architecture that enchanted the upper classes that ruled Argentina until 1916. The style can be framed within that imposed in the Second French Empire, and the pieces stand out of polychrome ceramics and the abundant ornaments on the façade.
The idea of transforming a water tank reservoir into a palace has received numerous criticisms, generally in relation to the lack of need to provide a facility of this type with such luxury, considering it an exaggeration and a waste. However, it was common at that time for buildings with utilitarian functions, warehouses or railway terminals, to be wrapped in palatial-looking exteriors. Another clear example of this is the Palacio de la Luz, currently the Usina del Arte, located in the La Boca neighborhood.
In 2015, the state company Aysa began the first stage of the Progressive Recovery Plan for the Palacio de Aguas to restore its towers, crests and slates, respecting the original structure, looking like it did in 1894.
Today you can visit it as a Museum to learn about the history of water and sanitation in Buenos Aires, and the project and construction of its historic Palace. You can also visit its Historical Archive, which brings together specialized information on emblematic buildings, works and key aspects of the urban and architectural development of Buenos Aires. This is one of the most important Archives in the country, since its oldest documents date back to the late 1800s. The thousands of graphic pieces of high heritage significance that make up it are kept in a unique space: inside the large iron tanks of the Palace.
Inside the Aguas Corrientes Palace there is also the Ing. Agustín González Library, specialized in Sanitary Engineering and Environmental Sciences. Here you can find unique publications on the History of Water and Sanitation in Argentina, as well as updated material on different topics of your specialization. In 2006 it was opened to the community, becoming a semi-public library. Today, it also has a children's library, aimed at caring for the environment.