Church and Monastery of St. Catherine of Siena
2014 World Monuments Watch
Founded in 1745, the Church and Monastery of St. Catherine of Siena was the first convent for cloistered nuns in Buenos Aires. The buildings were the work of Italian architect and Jesuit Giovanni Andrea Bianchi, known locally as Andrés Blanqui. Bianchi also created City Hall and the façade and portico of the Cathedral of Córdoba, among other important buildings in the capital. Soon after the construction of the church and monastery, the neighborhood became known as St. Catherine’s. Since 2001, the monastery has functioned as a spiritual care center for local residents and visitors alike. For many, it is an oasis nestled in the dense, historic urban core of the Argentine capital.
In recent years, local preservation groups have come together to raise awareness about development pressures in the historic center of Buenos Aires and the insufficient enforcement of protection laws for built heritage. Despite its location in a protected area with height regulations, the city approved plans to build an 18-story tower with six levels of underground parking on the site of the old church cemetery adjacent to the building itself. Construction of the tower would have cast a permanent shadow on St. Catherine’s and destroyed the historic context around this important religious complex. The church was included on the 2014 World Monuments Watch in order to advocate for a balance between new development and heritage concerns within Buenos Aires’s historic urban areas, so as to preserve the assets that characterize these centers and maintain quality of life for their communities.
In May 2014, Watch Day participants joined the group Basta de Demoler for a performance of traditional Italian songs, followed by a presentation of the advocacy efforts carried out in the past year. The presentation also showed a rendering of what the site would look like with the 18-story tower built on the adjacent lot.
Since the Watch
Following the Watch, successive court decisions in Buenos Aires reversed the plans to build an 18-story mixed-use tower next to the Church and Monastery of St. Catherine of Siena. A September 2013 decision of the city’s Administrative and Tax Appeals Court was upheld by the Court of Appeals in May 2014 and by the High Court in October 2016, putting an end to this preservation battle.