Known for its classic architecture and European ambiance, Buenos Aires has long been recognized for its burgeoning arts and design scene. Beginning with its 2005 designation as UNESCO’s first City of Design, the Argentine capital has invested in promoting itself as a design destination in the last decade.
One of the neighborhoods that has benefited from these efforts is Barracas, a still relatively unknown working class area that borders San Telmo and La Boca. In 2014, Barracas was declared part of Buenos Aires’ District of Design and is now home to a number of important design institutions, such as the Metropolitan Design Center (Centro Metropolitano de Diseño), housed in a renovated historic fish market.
In the 19th century, Barracas was home to many of Buenos Aires’ most affluent families. However, many of these wealthy residents abandoned the area following a yellow fever epidemic in the 1870s. By the mid-20th century, Barracas was primarily a working class area dominated by factories, which began to be shut down in the 1980s. More recently, the former industrial zone has become a hotspot for artists and designers seeking out its abandoned warehouses as studio spaces due to the low real estate prices.
Local artist and long-time resident of Barracas, Marino Santa Maria has helped spur the revitalization of the district. He has been working on Pasaje Lanín, a cobblestone street of mosaics and murals located between Calle Brandsen and Avenida Suárez, for more than 15 years. Pasaje Lanín offers a surprising burst of color in an otherwise gray neighborhood.
The son of a painter, Santa Maria grew up at Lanín 33, the house where he now lives and works. Trained as a painter, he served as the rector of the School of Fine Arts (Escuela de Bellas Artes) from 1992 to 1998, when he resigned and began to work on Pasaje Lanín in earnest. In 2005, Pasaje Lanín was featured as part of Casa FOA, the most important interior design and architecture event in Argentina.
The City of Buenos Aires has provided funding for the Pasaje Lanín, declaring it part of the cultural heritage of Barracas in 2014. In total, Santa Maria has painted nearly 40 facades along three blocks. He is continuing his work on Pasaje Lanín and hopes to eventually cover the entire street in tile mosaics.
Santa Maria believes that artistic interventions such as Pasaje Lanín can improve the quality of life in an area such as Barracas. People, residents and visitors alike, become part of the work itself.
"[The street] is a channel that you go through and start to become part of the artwork. The artwork becomes complete when people walk through it or live in it," he says.
Pasaje Lanin has become a tourist destination in Barracas, and is now home to other businesses such as a showroom for design company Acabajo. Just around the corner on Suarez Avenue is La Flor de Barracas, a historic bar that was saved in 2009 when its building was scheduled for demolition.
Santa Maria’s artistic interventions have gone beyond the boundaries of Barracas. In 2014, he was commissioned to create mosaics and murals in the Buenos Aires subway system. In total, he used more than 1,500,000 Venetian tiles on his murals at the Plaza Italia and Las Heras metro stations. Thanks to Santa Maria and other creatives, the Argentine capital may just live up to its reputation as a City of Design.
Translation: Natalia Llanos
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