New forms of cultural entrepreneurship in the district of Palermo Chico. In one of Buenos Aires’ historic homes, eclecticism and genius loci
In 2016, Michelle Obama met Juliana Awada, the wife of Argentine President Mauricio Macri, at Casa Cavia, throwing a wrench in the security protocols of the diplomatic trip. Fifteen minutes of conversation turned into thirty-five, while discussing their respective roles as First Lady. Casa Cavia is the name of the concept store located in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The store, opened in 2014, is a multi-purpose cultural space that hosts a restaurant, cocktail bar, publishing house, bookstore, and flower shop. The structure that house Casa Cavia, in turn, is called the Residencia Bollini Roca, constructed in 1927 and renovated by KallosTurin architecture studio in the style of la belle époque.
Casa Cavia can be found in the district of Palermo Chico, Buenos Aires, an area whose origins date back to 1836, when Juan Manuel de Rosas— a politician, governor of Buenos Aires, and military leader—bought acres of land upon which to construct his residence. In 1912, the Argentine-French architect Carlos Thays developed an urban project for the residential part of the property, which was exhibited in the industrial exhibition of 1910. From an architectural point of view, Palermo Chico is characterized by its curved and diagonal streets, as well as its oval piazzas which interrupt the colonial grid typical of Buenos Aires’ city center. The urban planner imagined a residential neighborhood for the aristocracy of the Argentine capital, lush with greenery and native vegetation. The first large villas with gardens were constructed in the neoclassical style, and are repurposed as embassies today. The large green swath of parks an gardens known as Parque Tres de Febrero is modelled after the Bois de Boulogne in Paris and Hyde Park in London. During the twentieth century, the architectural landscape of the neighborhood was enriched by modern buildings of historical importance, such as the Victoria Ocampo Villa designed by architect Alejandro Bustillo, and avantgarde structures such as the recently-constructed Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA).
It was in this context that Casa Cavia, whose name dates back to these first construction projects, was conceived of by Norwegian architect Alejandro Christophersen. The son of a Spanish diplomat, Christophersen was awarded the commission for a villa that an aristocrat had previously wanted to give as a gift to his wife. The building was listed as Residencia Bollini Roca, with a view facing the Plaza Alemania. In keeping with his architectural philosophy, Christophersen utilized various historic references to serve his rationalist aesthetic, resulting in a building that was the epitome of the architectural experience of the twentieth century. The villa was declared as a landmark of Buenos Aires’ cultural heritage in 2011 and was restored by British-American firm KallosTurin in 2014. The approach of the architectural studio was to preserve the building’s original context, while inserting more contemporary elements: an exercise in contrast, playing with historic time and space. The restoration is a tribute to the villas and restaurants seen in Paris and Buenos Aires during the 1920s and 1930s. The name of the villa, Casa Cavia, evokes the circular shape of its garden: it features a raised pool at the very center, reflecting the sky and surrounding landscape. Today, a series of platforms connects the original structure to the storefront at the back of the garden, finished with the same materials as those used in the original restoration, but with a modern twist. The flow created by the rooms, however, has been maintained in order to keep the same feeling of separation found in the homes. The café is composed of four separate rooms: the entryway, transformed into a space for meetings and exhibitions; the reception, which offers a glimpse into a garden; the salon, more formal and with more subdued lights than the rest of the space; the bookstore, whose domestic spaces recall classic reading rooms; and the headquarters of the publishing house on the top floor.
The creative director of Casa Cavia is Guadalupe Garcia Mosqueda, who uses her considerable training and experience as a documentary filmmaker (she studied filmmaking at Buenos Aires’ Fundación Universidad de Cine) to direct the lighting, staff uniforms, and every detail of the dining table—from the flatware to the plating—weaving each element to tell a story through gastronomy. Meanwhile, Chef Julieta Caruso has conceived of a menu that mixes flavors of Asia, Europe, and Argentina, citing references from literature and cinema—often from the bookstore adjacent to the restaurant— along the way. A chocolate cake topped with dulce de leche ice cream and cacao beans, for example, alludes to the movie Matilda. Or lamb, sizzled at a low temperature, with crisps of its own skin, aromatic herbs, and quinoa, draws its inspiration from The Silence of the Lambs, directed by Jonathan Demme.
Available in the bookstore are volumes by the publishing house Ampersand (the logogram representing the Latin conjugation “et”), which is incidentally managed by Garcia Mosqueda’s mother, the editor-in-chief Ana Mosqueda. The publishing house defines itself as a platform for the production of knowledge, publishing essays that deal with visual culture, fashion, philosophy, and literary theory. Ampersand is a cultural space located on the top floor of Casa Cavia, where the publication launches events and organizes specialized courses in writing and editing. The last section of Casa Cavia is managed by floral designer Camila Gassiebavle, the founder of Blumm Flower Co. Studio. Her use of floral composition to decorate spaces is the result of Gassievale’s philosophy, intertwining the dialogue between plants, visual arts, design, and landscape.
Text Matteo Canetta
Palermo Chico, Argentina