Blog Post

Saint Catherine's Should Not Lose Its Sky

The Church and Monastery of St Catherine of Sienna stand in about a third of a block in downtown Buenos Aires.

It was the first monastery for cloistered nuns in Buenos Aires city, built in 1745 for the St Catherine's nuns of the Dominican Order.

The plans were by the Jesuit priest Andrés Bianchi, who also designed the City Hall, the School and Church of St. Ignatius, Pilar Church, the Church of Our Lady of Mercy, the Church of St. Francis and San Roque Chapel, and the Cathedral of Córdoba—some of the most remaining ecclesiastical buildings from the colonial era. A painstaking restoration in 1999 returned the monastery to its eighteenth-century appearance.

Since 1974 both church and monastery have functioned as a spiritual care center, unique in the micro-center, for those working or traveling in downtown.

The “Catedral al Norte” Historic Protection Area, including the site, was created by law, but at the same time a mega-building 58 meters high was authorized.

In 2011 a department of the Buenos Aires city government issued a permission to go ahead with a 58-meter-high tower at a site the same block occupied by the church and monastery. This permission was in clear violation of the Urban Planning Code, which sets a height limit of 12 meters for the Special Area 16 zoning.

Building the tower would have had a great negative bioclimatic impact on the monastery and church, breaking the airflow in summer, limiting natural lighting, and a notable loss in the quality of the cloister space by the visual invasion of the skyline.

Basta de Demoler [Stop Demolitions] and several local residents resorted to the law court, which granted a protection stopping the building of the tower.

Basta de Demoler and the church authorities have started activities to give visibility to this problem. Social networks, flyers, and articles in the press were used to call people to guided visits, symbolic embraces, and explanatory meetings. A special day dedicated to this project included these actions and also to holding exhibitions of photos on site, conferences, the publishing of an explanatory leaflet, and the ongoing monitoring and publicizing of the legal process initiated by Basta de Demoler. To date the building of the tower is still halted. Basta de Demoler’s nomination for Buenos Aires Historic Center was included on the World Monuments Watch in 2010.

As a last resource to protect our heritage, Basta de Demoler resorts to the law court in other cases too. Recently Basta de Demoler was sued by for millions of dollars in a clear attempt to silence defense of the heritage of the city.