Material Imaginations: architecture, nature and politics in Buenos Aires 1925-1949

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


My doctoral research explores the relationship between architecture and politics in modern Buenos Aires. Drawing on elements from political theory, architectural history and urban geography, the thesis investigates a historical period in which architectural discourse problematised the production of the city’s material landscape and transformed it into a constitutive and defining element of urban politics. Between 1925 and 1949, members of the local architectural circle – through the assembling of contrasting projects – questioned the established spatial order of the metropolis and proposed for its transformation an integral revision of the city-nature relation. This thesis examines the articulation of a set of architectural interventions that found in the mobilisation of the city’s material sphere, a means through which to contest the existing spatialisation of the social. It investigates how the language and forms crafted through material and architectural productions scrutinised and opposed the established rules governing how bodies and things were to become visible, and therefore political, in the metropolis. The empirical analysis, based on the architects’ personal archives, manuscripts, congress proceedings and technical journals of the time, is structured around four different material imaginations. Firstly, I examine the nationalist architectural experiments proposed in the Organic Plan for Buenos Aires from 1925 and their aim to solve the problem of “urban congestion” by reinstating in the city’s centre the material presence of a telluric geo-historical tradition. Secondly, I analyse Wladimiro Acosta’s Marxist architecture and his desire to terminate the urban-rural divide through an architectural revolution that sought to transform Buenos Aires into a “lineal city”. Thirdly, the thesis investigates Le Corbusier’s plan to assemble a “concrete biology” for Buenos Aires and his proposal to reduce the notion of politics to the relation between architecture and life. Finally, the empirical analysis explores the failure of the Office for the Study of Buenos Aires (1948-1949) and its cinematic attempts to extol the virtues of a future metropolis by engineering “a tamed and organised” reconfiguration of the pampas by the River Plate. The research concludes by detailing how the ascendency of state-led forms of territorial planning ultimately effaced architectural discourse from the crafting and imagining of socio-political futures for the city. I argue that the cancellation of the material and architectural imaginations as revealing mechanisms of alternative urban political forms, marked the consolidation in Buenos Aires of a post-political urban condition.These examined material imaginations contested the accepted margins and contents of institutionalised local politics. Whilst most local parties were focused on administering the extension of the existing city’s colonial grid, architectural discourse managed to position the material sphere and the practice of building as tools with which to imagine and engineer alternative forms of social and material relations in the metropolis. For a group of architects and city specialists, urban politics was transformed into a domain where social conflict, alliances and order were negotiated, named and exposed through architectural and material interventions. By revisiting modern architectural discourse in Buenos Aires, my research advances a theoretical understanding of urban politics that reinstitutes the material as a source from which to explore and transform the present socio-spatial order of the city. In a contemporary Latin American metropolitan scenario where the capacity to intervene and decide over the definition of the cities’ collective material and infrastructural present is severely undermined, this conceptualisation is fundamental to exploring future modes of democratising the production of urban space.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University College London (UCL)
  • University College London
Publication statusPublished - 6 May 2010