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  and Leandro Luis Targon-Gomez , and Flickr user elpollo .)