At the beginning of the 20th century, Buenos Aires began to outline an industrial profile that for almost 100 years would characterize the neighborhoods that border the City's port. It was there, in the manufacturing center of La Boca, where it was decided to locate the building that would house Italo Argentina de Electricidad, a “palace of light”, in accordance with the new industrial aesthetics of the time, capable of satisfying the growing demand. of energy of the emerging city.
The work was designed by the Italian architect Giovanni Chiogna, occupying an area of 7,500 m2, in a Florentine style. Its construction began in mid-1914 and concluded in the first days of January 1916. In this first stage, the building body of Pedro de Mendoza and Pérez Galdós was built, a rectangular building that enclosed two large parallel naves: one for boilers, and the other for turbines.
It had two extensions in 1919 and 1921, where the Power Plant reached its final form: the construction of a second building, narrower and smaller, with a tower with a hipped tile roof, separated from the original by an interior street. , and the extension of the generation warehouse to Caffarena street. Thus, on the corner with Pedro de Mendoza, a large access atrium was formed, a “court of honor”, with a magnificent clock tower and an artistic staircase, dating back to 1926.
The expansions were necessary to increase the electrical energy supply capacity demanded by manufacturing establishments and for the electrification of tram networks in a city that was growing rapidly.
The Plant had a provision of 12 boilers producing steam through the combustion of oil, steam that drove the energy generation turbines that reached five units. The boilers occupied the space of the largest nave and the turbo-generators occupied the adjacent smaller nave. The cooling water was collected from the South Basin through low-level intakes with filters. Through a discharge channel the water returned to the river. A system of pumps driven by steam turbines drove the circulation movement of the liquid. The supply of fuel was ensured from the Dock itself by a pipe that connected the plant with the boats that transported it. During periods of scarcity, other fuels such as coal, corn, then fuel oil and finally gas were burned.
Fotografía de Gobierno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires - Flickr: Inauguración Usina de las Artes, CC BY 2.0
The chimneys that crowned the building smoked constantly. A large part of the building's auxiliary premises were intended for technical and administrative staff, and for the homes of senior bosses and company officials.
For the next 80 years it operated providing electricity to the city, passing into the hands of SEGBA when the service was nationalized. Then, with the privatization of public services, during the 1990s, the plant was definitively abandoned. Added later to the drop in activity in the area, the property deteriorated and was abandoned for several years until the Government of the City of Buenos Aires took on the task of restoring it.
After several project ideas and various efforts, linked to the conversion of this monumental architectural work for the cultural segment, the recovery took on the challenge of transforming a building with the industrial imprint of the early 20th century into an intelligent artistic complex.
The main nave was reserved for the music rooms. The star of the intervention was the symphony hall, a space with capacity for 1,200 spectators, arranged on three levels of stalls, equipped with resonators, diffusers, guatambú wood, special coatings, and a reflector to achieve an optimal acoustic level. Likewise, a chamber room with 280 seats and a microcinema were built.
The foyer is the hall or central space of the complex. It has a glass cover that provides natural lighting to the original exposed brick side walls, with inlays of pre-existing metal elements that recall the industrial character of the building. It forms a large distributor space that connects the Symphony Hall, the Chamber Hall, the internal street and connects this body with the Main Nave.
During the redesign of the second body, the concrete supports that supported the turbines were used to install, on the ground floor, a sample room, and allocate the large surface of the upper floor to multiple artistic activities.
With the total remodeling, the surface area doubled to 15,000m2. As it was an adaptation for a new use, the work included returning the façade of the building to its original appearance by restoring carpentry, moldings, blinding openings and removing foreign elements; The existing reinforced concrete structures at the access to the exhibition hall were demolished to locate the public stairs; the metal covers were completely removed; The existing metal trusses were removed, reinforced and relocated to receive a new roof on both warehouses, ensuring soundproofing of the building to meet the needs required by the acoustic consultants.
All metal and reinforced concrete support structures, stairs, complementary constructions on the interior street were executed; profiles and steel-deck type metal structures in walkways, side trays, vertical circulations, stairs. In addition, the finishes and interior coverings of the three rooms intended for musical performance were carried out, including acoustic conditioning, the construction of wooden acoustic coverings on ceilings, parapets of boxes and stalls.
Finally, the Usina del Arte was inaugurated by the Government of the City of Buenos Aires between 2011 and 2012, and became one of the main cultural spaces in Buenos Aires. Located in the heart of the La Boca neighborhood, with highly touristic places, it became part of the wide range of museums and cultural centers that exist in the Buenos Aires city.
As one of the many paradoxes of Modernity, the Art Plant is a clear example of how cities are rearranging themselves, adapting their spaces to the new demands and desires of today's society. Places that were previously destined for one activity now give rise to another. In this case, from the electrical industry to the cultural industry.