By Julia Henríquez
Phtos: Diana Martínez Llaser
The doors of Argentina’s monumental Central Post Office building have reopened to breathe new life into its halls for music, theater, literature, fine arts, film, and other arts.
In 1888, the French architect Norbert August Maillart submitted a proposal to the then director of the Telegraph and Post Office, Ramón José Cárcano. After undergoing several modifications, it was finally opened in 1928 and became the most modern building of the time. Due to the architectural gems that lie within, it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1997. It remained a Post Office until it received its last letter in 2003 and finally closed its doors.
But such important architectural heritage could not be abandoned, so in 2005 bidding was opened to assess the building. Five years later, as part of the bicentennial celebrations of the country’s Independence, the plans were announced and an odyssey began to dust off the granite, re-lay the bricks, replace the wood, and give new luster to this building that has gradually taken on new life.
Finally in 2015, now called the Néstor Kirchner Cultural Center, with the slogan: “I come to propose a dream,” the Central Post Office building has opened its doors to all those who dare to enter a world ruled by art.
From 1880 —when Buenos Aires was declared the capital of the country— to 1920, Argentina witnessed the development of an ambitious public works program: schools, hospitals, ports, administrative offices, and government buildings were built. Then president Miguel Juárez Celman appointed Ramón José Cárcano director of the Central Post Office. Cárcano carried out important reforms in the country’s postal system and promoted the construction of the building.
The project was given to the French architect Norbert Auguste Maillart, who settled in Buenos Aires in 1887 and presented his first proposal a year later. In 1911 and 1912 the work advanced, but significant modifications to the project were also made. The work was completed in 1928, when the building was inaugurated by President Marcelo T. de Alvear.
The restoration and enhancements included the building’s four facades and everything inside. This work began in 2009 and included restoration of the lights, elevators, French tiles, metalwork, and general carpentry in the large ceremonial halls. The cost per square meter for the reconstruction and adaptation of the cultural center was US$2,346.
“The Blue Whale”
This great concert hall, with its breathtaking wooden structure and granite, is the focal point of the building, with seating for 1,750 spectators and about 110 musicians. Decorated with an immense tubular Klais organ, it provides the perfect acoustics and ideal setting for concerts, symphonies, operas, and countless other events. Here, national and international artists from diverse disciplines receive ovations from audiences that never tire of asking for more.
Someone once said, “Putting a dome on a building is like putting on a hat.” Not surprisingly, the largest, most prestigious and ostentatious buildings in Buenos Aires decorate their heights with domes of various sizes and colors. The Central Post Office is no exception: its new dome includes 496 glass windows, making it a magnificent lookout.
Adapted as a multi-purpose hall, its nearly 5,400 square feet include a rising stage, curtains, forklifts, speakers, and stage lighting. The LED lighting in the glass projects the Argentine flag on top of the building on most nights, but when a foreign dignitary is visiting, it is decorated with the corresponding flag. From its lookouts you can see Puerto Madero and the river on one side, and the Casa Rosada Presidential Palace and Taylor’s Custom House on the other.
Defying gravity and evoking the great lamps that used to decorate the elegant salons of the time, the Chandelier is a two-level glass structure that levitates in the very heart of the building, covering more than 9,600 square feet. This exhibition hall challenges the artists exhibiting there as well as the laws of physics.
Néstor Kirchner Hall
Via an installation that invites you to have a sensorial experience, the exhibition allows visitors to make contact with the landscape that accompanied Néstor Kirchner’s journey, as well as the voices and presence of his closest traveling companions, his personal effects, and the experiences that forged his character.
Eva Perón Hall
While it was still the Central Post Office, Evita gave life to her famous Eva Perón Foundation in this office in 1946. A desk, surrounded by letters, toys, blankets, and books, recalls the thousands of fans who contacted her for help every day with the hope that she would not fail them.
Hall of Shields
This previously unused area now hosts various photo exhibits and invites you to admire its architecture.
Located in the basement, this wood-paneled chamber hall has a 534-person seating capacity and is considered small next to its giant sister “The Blue Whale.”
Six multimedia auditoriums, each with the capacity to seat 104 people, are available throughout the cultural center. They are equipped with the latest technology to support diverse activities and workshops.
On the fourth, fifth, and sixth floors, areas that were once offices have been transformed into new spaces for meetings, video projections, conferences, exhibits, and vestibules. Six auditoriums, each with a 104-seat capacity, were built, along with multipurpose halls and vestibules that preserve the building’s splendor. In addition, the library and archive on the seventh floor were restored through general carpentry.
With the center offering so many activities, visitors to Buenos Aires never want to leave. In just one day it’s possible to see children having fun at the door with soap bubbles, a León Gieco concert with the Pascual Grisolía National Symphonic Band of the Blind, a high quality play, and fantastic storytellers who speak to visitors through a speaker.
You can see the center’s full schedule at www.culturalkirchner.gob.ar
Don’t forget that to get tickets. For the shows in the dome, The Blue Whale, and the Argentine and Federal Halls, you must make reservations on the Monday or Tuesday before the show between 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., by calling (011) 684 16400 or online at www.culturalkircher.gob.ar, under “Entradas.”
From North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean, Copa Airlines offers two flights daily to Buenos Aires on Monday through Thursday, and three daily flights on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through its Hub of the Americas in Panama City.