Garden Cities in Argentina

Like a number of other South American countries, Argentina’s early to mid-twentieth century urban development was influenced by the garden city movement – and made a unique contribution to it. Argentina demonstrated a preference for garden neighbourhoods as a planning standard for city expansion into the suburbs, with family homes meeting a Peronist ideal that they should ‘be adequate, hygienic, comfortable, and economic, besides social, and privately owned’ very much to the fore. The main examples of Ciudad Jardíns – garden cities and suburbs – were found in Buenos Aires, and the most famous of these is the Ciudad Jardín Lomas del Palomar which is described below.

Ciudad Jardín Lomas del Palomar

The garden city of Lomas del Palomar is the best known of Argentina’s garden cities and suburbs. Located some 20 kilometres from downtown Buenos Aires, and was developed in 1944 by a German émigré Dr Erich Zeyen (there is more about Dr Zeyen later in the pamphlet). This new small city was reachable by way of two railway lines it was located between and which acted as its boundaries on either side (Dines, 2016: 58). Lomas del Palomar as a planned settlement shows in its town plan clear connections to Ebenezer Howard’s diagrams for the garden city.
Like many other garden settlements worldwide the design for Lomas del Palomar made use of diagrammatic representations that Howard had drawn to demonstrate garden city principles. Howard made clear these diagrams, with their circular shapes and the hubs and spokes of the social city constellation of settlements, were not designs as such and were for illustrative purposes. Garden city proponents nonetheless sometimes treated them as prototype plans. In Palomar’s case, the town’s place shaping, with a grand avenue, radiating circular elements and zoned areas for a largely self-sufficient town of housing, green space, industry and other land uses, showed direct design connections to these diagrams.

Also largely in keeping with Howard’s ideas, not only would Lomas del Palomar be as far as possible self-sufficient over time, its construction would use local materials where it could. Its physical design was intended to support some level of self-sufficiency. Covering around 90 hectares the planned town was primarily comprised of areas of separate houses and gardens, focused at the core on a large park and a series of central squares, including the main Plaza del Avión where commercial and cultural land uses were placed. Like the garden city examples in neighbouring Brazil, irregular block structures resulting from the intersection of radial and diagonal streets, were most unlike the traditional urban grid of central Buenos Aires. At the same time there was a strong focus on keeping the garden city walkable: between houses, shops, cultural facilities, green spaces and work places in the industries that had been attracted to the town.

The ‘garden’ side of the garden city was well represented. Lomas del Palomar was focused on a large park at its centre known as the ‘Great Recreation Park’ with its spatial (and Palomar marketing) prominence reflecting garden city healthy living ideals and a ‘garden village’ feel to the centre of the town, according to Dines (2016). Although the town did not have a formal greenbelt, as in Howard’s original conception, open spaces at the edge of the settlement were set by boundary creating elements including the railway lines, and by landowning families in the area. Dines (2016) also points to the importance of gardening and agriculture as healthy elements of the town (in keeping with Howard’s model) in the planning and evolution of the Ciudad Jardín. The town developers’ magazine noted in 1945 that some of the inhabitants prefer above all, a grand predominance of flowers ... Others, endowed with an acute practical sense, farm legumes. Also, fruit trees have already been planted, as the optimists dwellers of the Ciudad Jardín have their minds also set on the future (Dines, 2016: 61).

As the town’s creator and developer, Dr Zeyen was very keen to bring home ownership with the reach of people from different classes and to reinforce social belonging and foster a strong ‘sense of community’ and place identity – perhaps in reflection of his experience of 1920s Germany and familiarity with its fate in the 1930s and 40s. The housing style chosen for the new settlement was not the Arts and Crafts inspired designs of the English garden cities or the version found in Hellerau and other German garden cities and suburbs. Instead a modest but very popular Californian style known in Spanish as the chalet californiano that had emerged out of American colonial Mission style dwellings was selected: it was thought the chalet californiano would offer both affordability and a certain architectural and social cache in marketing terms (Dines, 2016).

These home ownership opportunities were available alongside designs for commercial avenues, with arcaded two story buildings, again understandably with a more Spanish than English aesthetic and climate related design sensibility. The commercial avenues retained the design element of the traditional recova – the ground floor arcaded space that protected shoppers and others from harsh sun and other weather conditions. As Dines (2016: 72) points out, the colonnaded recova made for a paseo (walking) space that was not completely unlike Howard’s covered Crystal Place for shoppers at the centre of the garden city:

In el Palomar, this covered paseo was developed and proposed for Avenida Capitán Rosales, along the main access axis to Ciudad Jardín. The developers of El Palomar planned the commercial street as a recova that not only gives shelter to the pedestrians, but also protects the merchandise that is exposed on the shops' windows and vitrines.

Dines (2016: 7) explains that Lomas del Palomar was designed at a neighbourhood scale as a private sector led real-estate development outside government urban development policy. Places like Palomar were part of conurbation development around Buenos Aires made possible by the development of regional transport systems including railway lines.

Perhaps the most significant departure from the original garden city principles was the lack of the land stewardship model which was at the heart of the Howard’s vision for the garden city. Although Dr Zeyen and his colleague were enlightened developers who tried to bring affordable, good quality housing to residents in a garden city influenced settlement, sharing land value over time did not form part of the approach at Lomas del Palomar. In fact
there is no aspect included in its conception that resembles the revenue scheme proposed in the original British model. This is important in the sense that in spite of this aspect of "ownership" being one that sets El Palomar apart from the Garden City model in terms of management, it will also prove to have significant repercussions in the evolution of the town (Dines, 2016: 60).


Although detailed information about Béccar is hard to come by, it is worth mentioning as a footnote, the garden settlement of Béccar which preceded Ciudad Jardín Lomas del Palomar. The settlement of Béccar was one of the German émigré, Dr Erich Zeyen’s and his colleague, Dr Germán Wernicke’s, first attempts to design and develop a garden city-inspired settlement in Argentina. Through their newly formed building company the FINCA Sociedad Anónima Argentina de Ahorro, Drs Zeyen and Wernicke, secured a site located to the north of central Buenos Aires to start to realise their garden city proposals. Béccar was an opportunity to develop garden city related ideas in a real place. As German (2013) notes, the company built and financed a neighborhood where house buyers had the option to choose which model of house they wanted to build. The experience Dr Zeyen and his colleague gained here was to stand them in good stead in the much more ambitious Lomas del Palomar garden city which was their next and most fully realised garden city project.

Ciudad Evita

Another garden settlement developed in post-war Argentina offers a most unusual example of garden city shaping to be found worldwide. The Ciudad Evita – or Evita City – named after and celebrating Evita Peron, was built in the late 1940s in the Greater Buenos Aires area, some six kilometres from the airport and twenty from the central city. It was intended to house some 15,000 households in a town – most remarkably - shaped like the profile of the head of Evita Peron herself. All Ciudad Evita’s dwellings were designed in chalet californiano style but the new town also boasted a range of civic facilities including schools, libraries, and sports centres. There was also a strong focus on gardens including fruit bearing trees. The Ciudad Evita still exists today; housing a much larger population than originally proposed, but retaining some of the garden city elements from its original design. Argentina declared Evita City a national historical monument in 1997.

As Sophie Balbo writing in The Argentina Independent (22 August, 2008) notes about Ciudad Evita, the city ‘was founded by Juan Domingo Perón in 1947. His idea was to honour his wife by creating a small city that looks like her profile when seen from the sky…From 1963, new districts were created by the municipality of La Matanza after it took over its administration. The name of the city was changed by successive military governments. Hating its connection to Perón, they renamed the town Ciudad General Belgrano, then Ciudad General Martín Miguel de Güemes in 1977. The city finally recuperated its original name in 1983, with the return of democracy.’

The Chalet Californiano

The chalet californiano house in Argentina was neither really a chalet nor entirely Californian, nonetheless this suburban villa house type was typical of the Peronist period of the late 1940s to mid-1950s. As Giberti (1991) notes, the chalet form became an important aspect of vernacular housing design in the early 20th century and the Californian or colonial ‘chalet’ had a certain cache as a stylish dwelling, and reflected the cultural influence of American films and architecture in Argentina. The chalet grew out of the mission style offered an adaptable and even self-build element in that buyers could make additions to them as their needs changed over time and this was an element in the marketing to prospective purchasers. Another significant difference was that anyone was free to establish a small business in any housing lot anywhere in Lomas del Palomar – offering very localised economic opportunities for self-sufficiency and prefiguring our current preoccupation with ‘live-work’ housing and mixed use developments.

Dr Erich Zeyen

Maria Dines (2016: 46) describes Dr Erich Zeyen (1899-1969) as a visionary German developer, who ‘embodies the story of the many immigrants that were welcomed to the sparsely developed Argentina at the time’. Zeyen had been born in Cologne, arriving in Argentina by ocean liner in 1929 to settle permanently, and "hoping to create a garden city on virgin land in a new world." Dr Erich Zeyen, conceived the idea of developing a garden city along the lines of those being established in Europe and popular in Germany (the so-called ‘gardenstadt’). Zeyen was influenced by English garden cities and especially by Hellerau in Germany. In 1935 Dr Zeyen founded a building society whose motto was Quiere un Hogar Propio para cada Familia (Home ownership for every family) which was to act as the financing basis for homes of new residents in Palomar garden city and was also its main construction firm.
The importance given to Ebenezer Howard’s ‘light and air’ ideas about garden cities that influenced Dr Zeyen’s perspectives, is reflected in an edition of his building society (or FINCA’s) magazine in 1945 where it was noted that ‘The need [to create El Palomar] existed, as an indispensable condition, also due to the coarsening of the ways in which the modern concepts on hygiene value direct sunlight and fresh air, and it is not possible to think about that among the smoke of the chimneys, the exhaust pipes of the vehicles and the baraúnda of the intense traffic at the populated centers.’ (translation by Maria Dines, 2016).

Dines (2016) reports that Zeyen first tried out garden city ideas in the development of the neighborhood of Béccar in the San Isidro province of Buenos Aires in the early 1930s. After this successful process at a relatively modest scale he decided to work at a larger, more ambitious level to create Lomas del Palomar in the early 1940s. In 1942 Dr Zeyen worked in partnership with an associate, Dr Germán Wernicke, who was also an immigrant from Germany, to develop the site for the proposed garden city. Together they bought an area known as Parque Richmond in an administrative province of Greater Buenos Aires called Tres de Febrero. The site was well connected to the main central city station of Retiro which was about 24 minutes away on the F.C. Pacífico rail line. It is on these "90 hectares on a hillock filled with undulations and populated by vegetation, with trees of the most beautiful and rich species," where the project of El Palomar would be carried out (Dines, 2016: 46).

Dr Erich Zeyen remains a critical figure in the development of the Argentinian garden city.

We are very grateful to the following historians and other researchers into garden cities in Argentina including in alphabetical order; Arturo Almandoz (2003) for his intriguing paper ‘The Emergence of Modern Town Planning in Latin America – after a Historiographic Review.’ Paper presented in Finnish research seminar on Latin America, Helsinki 22.5; B Giberti (1991) for the fascinating article ‘The Chalet as Archetype: The Bungalow, The Picturesque Tradition and Vernacular Form. Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review, 55-64; Maria Dines (2016) for her excellent thesis ‘Garden Cities of the Americas: Greenbelt and El Palomar, a Comparative Case Study on the Model's Translation to the American Continents’; Eden Gallanter (2012) for the interesting ‘Ciudad Jardin Lomas del Palomar: Deriving Ecocity Design Lessons from a Garden City", Planning Perspectives, Vol. 27, April 2012, p. 298, and Edgardo Germán Dominguez (2013) for the excellent ‘Erich Zeyen: alemanes, urbanismo y planes de vivienda durante el peronismo. 1943-1955’, XIV Jornadas Interescuelas/Departamentos de Historia. Departamento de Historia de la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras. Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, Mendoza.