9.27.2007

Bizarrchitecture

Rising 177 feet over the Argentine city of Mendoza is Edificio Gomez (built in 1954), which is one of the most...interesting buildings I think I've ever come across.

Before we get into Gomez, though, a bit of background on Mendoza. The city, home to approximately 111,000 people (with 850,000 in the metropolitan area), is located at the foot of the Andes and is known for its exquisite beauty -- it's nickname is "The Oasis City." It started out in 1561 with the traditional 5x5 block town plan surrounding a central square and Catholic church that the Spanish used for basically every city they built when colonizing South America. The dimensions of this plan (streets, sidewalks, lot sizes) were notoriously rigid, leading to a rather uniform look to the central areas of many South American towns. But when a massive earthquake leveled Mendoza in 1861, it was rebuilt with much more generous spatial allottments. Sidewalks and streets were widened, trees were planted, more expansive plazas laid out, and one of the city's most unique features -- a series of stone irrigation ditches that run along the streets to water the trees -- was created. In fact, Mendoza is considered by some to be the most beautiful city in Argentina -- a steep claim, considering that this country can claim the likes of Salta, Tucumán, and Buenos Aires (the Paris of the Americas).

So, with a reputation like that, how does Mendoza explain Edificio Gomez? Just look at this thing. It's...I don't even know what it is. It's bizarrchitecture, that's for sure. The verticality of the campanille is impressive...I'll bet the thing looks three times its height from the sidewalk. Or at least it would if the architect hadn't wrapped it in an industrial riverfront warehouse from Cleveland circa 1940. Seriously, what is that? And then there's the crown, which is...it's just sublime. The above photo was the first image I'd ever seen of the tower, with the crown peeking over the trees in the central Plaza España. Without the bulk of the building, the crown has an instant "Holy hot spiky messes, Batman, what IS that?" effect. It looks like the bastard child of Antonio Sant'Elia and Fritz Lang. Or of their buildings, anyway. Whatever. Words fail.

From what I can gather, the building was designed by someone named Civit, who "based" it on the art deco towers of 1920s Manhattan. At first, when I read that, I got excited at the prospect of the Forgotten Continent (oh please, everyone both knows and cares about Africa; but who can find Bolivia on a map?) coming complete with its own forgotten Insane/Visionary Modernist Architect With a Vaguely Industrial-Sounding Psuedonym (Corbu del Sur!). Alas, the guy's full name was Manolo Civit. How droll.

Honestly, I am totally crazy about this building, and I can't really figure out why. It doesn't even really fit in the ugly-chic category that Jean Nouvel has been blazing a trail through lately. It lacks the self-awareness and the extra three pieces of flare. Perhaps it's the fact that it's utterly unique? Or that it looks like the watchtower-clubhouse of an eccentric and reclusive manchild? Or that they light it up at night like some kind of baroque prison Christmas tree? I don't know. It could be any of those things. I just know that I like what I see.

There have been several recent articles and blog posts listing the authors' nominations for the world's ugliest buildings, and I think that it's worth noting that Edificio Gomez didn't make any of them. Granted, that might have something to do with the fact that it's an extremely obscure building from an obscure city in a country that I'd be willing to bet at least 50% of "US Americans" have never heard of...but let's give Gomez the benefit of the doubt and say that it missed the lists because it is not, in fact, ugly. Instead, it is just completely bizarre. And really, that's much more fun anyway.

At any rate, stumbling on the Edificio Gomez has me wondering what other wacky architectural curiosities are hiding out there in the gazillion little cities around the world that I've never heard of. Is there such a thing in your city? If so, please share. In the meantime, let's enjoy Gomez in all of his...erm...glory.

(Photos from Panoramio users Emiliano Homrich [1] and Leandro Luis Targon-Gomez [3], and Flickr user elpollo [2].)

4 comments:

Daniel Nairn said...

Somehow I missed that building entirely. I found Mendoza to be one of the most charming cities I've ever been to, and the space was certainly well utilized by the people there. The public park was filled with picnickers on a Sunday afternoon, yet the crowds didn't diminish the landscape at all. I even proposed to my wife in the central plaza there, under the street lights. I sometimes recall my experience in Mendoza when I think of the potential that cities hold.

But I suppose some large metal monstrosities help keep the excessive idealism at bay. You're right. It has it's own kind of glory. A little like a pink flamingo lawn ornament

Brendan said...

When I first read your comment, I balked at the word "monstrosities," but on second reading I suppose that Gomez sort of is a monstrous building...like a fragment of a nightmare in the middle of a dream. I haven't seen it in person (hw cool that you've been there!) but it seems like the kind of thing that would really be a shock to the system.

I think ugly buildings do serve a purpose, though I'm not sure if it's keeping idealism at bay, unless you're talking about cautionary tales, heh. In a way, when they are surrounded by more traditionally "beautiful" architecture, goofy buildings like Gomez have their own weird sort of beauty. The contrast seems charm.

I love the pink flamingo analogy, btw. :-)

Brendan said...

The contrast seems charm-ING. I don't know where my mind went there.

Administrador said...

Hi, I'm Facundo from Mendoza. I stumbled acrross this post while looking for pics of the G-7 (that's what we call it here). I have always thought of it as sort of a Ghotam City outcast, though I tend to be more forgiving towards it, probably because it's one of my city's "dearest sons". Its architect, Manuel Civit ("Manolo" was his nickname) is a renowned historical figure around here, with a school and a street named after him... OK, I admit it's a little kitsch. Anyway, I really don't get how could Daniel miss it, since it's placed in the middle of the most important street of the city...I hope you noticed there is a fine restaurant in its tenth floor, enjoying one of the best views of the city and the Andes, as well as our "other" most beloved building, the Pasaje San Martin, which sits across the street. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/once22/2978381168/sizes/o/)