Urban Planning + Design + Research
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Buenos Aires: City of Plazas


Buenos Aires: City of Plazas

Fall 2016 Urban Design Studio Pre-Studio Research

The central city of Buenos Aires, like many Latin American cities, has a formal urban vocabulary of interconnected plazas and open spaces. These patterns date from the Laws of the Indies, the laws promulgated by the Spanish to create uniform standards for the cities of their colonial empire. The plazas form a network that connects important buildings and serve as an infrastructural system for the city. Spaces like Plaza de Mayo, Tribunales, and Plaza San Martin stood out to us as some of the most memorable features of the city during our visit. The Retiro site, however, located adjacent to Plaza San Martin and the downtown area of the city, is completely devoid of any identifiable urban structure or clarity. We identified the major issues as: excessive devotion to infrastructural space, large plots of land held by government landowners, and a glut of open but inaccessible space that is closed to Porteños even though they claim the port as a key part of their identity.


Plaza Typologies:  S/M/L (Residential/Political/Culture) 

We analyzed the formal qualities of these plazas. The regular grid of the city provides a standardized size for most of the plazas, which usually occupy one or two blocks of the city. However, depending on the public buildings that anchor the squares, they take on different functions: residential squares, political, and cultural. The squares are a unifying element of the cityscape, but also provide connections between unique landmarks of the city that stand out from the rest of the urban fabric.

Social Space and Community in Buenos Aires


Buenos Aires Plazas in Global Comparison:

Size and Function

The plazas of Buenos Aires are remarkably uniform in scale, owing to the standardized city grid that they grew out of. Looking at plazas around the world, however, we generally find a relationship between plaza size and their symbolic function. Plazas that serve as national political centers are usually larger than those that serve as city or regional centers. Neighborhood plazas are usually the smallest. However, in Buenos Aires, the most famous square at the center of the city, Plaza de Mayo, is about the same size as most other less important squares in the city. What does define importance of plazas are the buildings they have around them. Thus, plazas are both anchors of symbolic landmarks in the city as well as public spaces open to all.