No, I am not obsessed with water. At home I use a Brita filter but otherwise I drink NYC TAP water all the time.
But what if City Planners built something that was so magnificent that you forget it was designed, build and operated to supply the entire city of Buenos Aires with potable water for almost a half a century. And its one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve seen!
The Water Building was conceived in the mid 1860’s when Buenos Aires had an epidemic of cholera and the plague and City officials hired a Swedish-Argentine Architect Carlos Nystromer to design a system to capture, process and supply water to this fast growing city. Nystromer designed a French Renaissance-style building, wrote up a Request for Proposal (RFP) and sent plans to European vendors for bid. It is believed to be Argentina’s first steel building structure.
The building is one of the most exuberant building’s I’ve seen in Buenos Aires or elsewhere. It encompasses an entire city block and it comprises of 3 levels that held 12 water tanks totaling 20 million gallons of potable water and an estimated weight of 135,000 tons designed and provided for by Marcinelle et Coulliet from Belgium. Despite this feat of engineering the thing that catches everyone’s eye is definitively its exterior.
The building’s entrance is graced by two caryatids “statues” with prominent wood doors (haven’t been able to find out the type of wood or its provenance).
The building exterior contains 130,000 glazed bricks and 300,000 pieces of custom designed terracotta and imported from England from Royal Doulton & Co., of London, and Burmantofts Company, from Leeds. Roofing material was green slate imported from France. Over the last 5 years a full restoration took place to replace most failed of the terracotta pieces.
The water tanks are no longer in use and have been replaced with facilities at other locations. There is a small museum that documents the history of the building and has a selection of old pipes, toilets, tanks and other water related items.
The utility company had to approved toilets sold in Argentina. Here are a sample of some of the proposed products.
For a building designed in the 1870’s here are some amazing feats:
- To have an architect in Argentina design a building and send plans to Europe for an RFP.
- For a building to be build by a Belgium firm in Argentina and in steel.
- For the architect to specify each decorative detail with such detail that smaller parts could be assembled in site like a “Lego” (see architectural detail pictures below)