Architectural Classics: Mariano Moreno National Library / Clorindo Testa, Bullrich and Cazzaniga
In the central Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires, in a large lot between Austria Street, Agüero Street, and Del Libertador Avenue, stands the current building of the Mariano Moreno National Librarydesigned by architects Clorindo Testa, Francisco Bullrich, and Alicia Cazzaniga.
Built on the basis of the project that won first prize in a national competition in 1961, and completed in the early 1990s, it has become a landmark of modern Argentine architecture and an example of the variant of 20th century expressionism known as “brutalism”.
On the part of Clorindo Testa, his academic and professional training shows a relationship with the trends of modern architecture and the search for artistic freedom, a personal language, and being contemporary. First in his relationship with the office of the Regulatory Plan of Buenos Aires -in 1948- which was directed by members of the Austral Group. On the other hand, he began to incorporate other artistic disciplines as a means of expression and dialogue with architecture, explicit evidence in his iconic work, the Bank of London -under development at the time of thinking the library- where he explored to the maximum the possibilities offered by reinforced concrete.
Regarding the library institution, the historical framework shows that the library activities were developed in different buildings since 1810 -when it was created by a decree of the First Junta with the name of Public Library of Buenos Aires- until 1960 when three hectares located between Libertador and Las Heras Avenues were assigned by Law No. 12,351. Previously, the Unzué Palace, the Presidential Residence of the Argentine Republic during the presidency, Juan Domingo Perón was located on those lands.
Although the work was awarded through a national bidding process -which closed in April 1962- the foundation stone of the building was laid 11 years after the passing of the Law. The works progressed with delays until they were finally suspended at the beginning of the 80s, during the dictatorship, and were resumed in 1982. The construction was carried out by different companies -Compañía Argentina de Construcciones, Jose E. Teitelbaum SA, and Servente Constructora SA- and was finally inaugurated on the 10th of April 1992. The bibliographic material was not finished being moved until the 21st of 1993 and even today there are elements of the original project that have not yet been developed, such as the metallic sunshades.
The winning proposal of the competition consisted of elevating the reading rooms, as an urban viewpoint, and burying the book deposits, facilitating their future expansion. The result is an interesting and pertinent programmatic model for the development of a program in accordance with a public institution and a local context. It symbolically introduces a “separation between the intellectual task (reading) and the memory function (deposits) thus being clearly externalized and where it is an inversion of the characteristic approach of the libraries of the last decades”.
The organizational program of a traditional library – where shelves are usually placed on the walls around the reading space – is in this case decomposed and re-articulated, giving way to views of the city and the river. Inviting reading as an activity linked to exterior contact. In addition, the programmatic model allows a free first floor integrated into the parks, creating a space for multiple outdoor activities. A programmatic interpretation or re-figuration that brings into focus other issues of the literary world, that can also be evidenced in the Seattle Central Library by OMA, Joshua Prince-Ramus, and LMN.
The elevation constitutes an urban landmark -a volume supported by four cores that house the stairs, elevators, and other services- and ensures a direct relationship between the green space, the ravine, and the building, as a result of the continuity of the existing park through an esplanade identifiable by its sculptural elements. Similar to the glyptodon -whose fossil remains were found during the excavation works and with which Clorindo Testa used to identify it- a space for multiple activities or access plaza is configured -dominated by a “fifth façade”- which acts as a balcony towards the surrounding parks and shows how the project is constituted in its largest proportion -although not evident- by a buried volume.
As for its programmatic distribution, the three basement floors contain the book deposits. On the first floor are the newspaper library and the old publications room. On the roof of the first floor are the public plaza-esplanade and the access to the library. In addition, from the esplanade, the volume of the building begins to be seen, mainly on the 1st floor, where the auditorium, the exhibition hall, the bar, and the management are located. On the 2nd floor, only administrative areas are located, and on the 3rd floor are the audio and media library, the treasure room, and the exhibition hall, together with other areas without public access. Only on the 5th floor is the reading room. On the 6th floor, there is access to the free reading room and different administrative areas. On the 7th floor is the machine room and then the terrace, where the elevator machine room and other elements of the building’s operation are located.
As for its structure, it has been divided into two types of independent foundations. A direct one corresponds to the book deposits and machine room. An indirect one -in the most representative volume of the building due to the size of its loads- identified with its four cores, which also support a structural plane from which the slabs of the first and second floors hang by means of tensors.
As if it were a kind of border, or a porteño block -which rises and leaves visible, its “block lung” for citizens to appropriate its spaces- the project shows how there are numerous interpretations of the same program and that allows a library to Be in many ways, the importance of academic and practical training to achieve different proposals and how the contribution of each work allows us to form and expand ourselves to have a more complete vision of what it means to respond to the problems of an architectural.
Find more photographs of the National Library in the AVB Workshop / Vertical Architecture Workshop-UBA
Glusberg, Jorge: “Revista Summa+. Clorindo Testa”
– Liernur, Jorge Francisco and Pschepiurca, Pablo: “la red austral: obras y proyectos de Le Corbusier y sus discípulos en la Argentina (1924-1965)”
-Websites Biblitoeca Nacional Mariano Moreno – Moderna Buenos Aires