My Chalet Houses project was the first thing I pursued with any degree of seriousness here in Buenos Aires. I started in late 2008 and spent a good portion of the winter of 2009 wandering around different neighborhoods looking for these odd implants from another continent.
This past winter [I’m talking about June & July] I had a few cloudy days here and there to go out and continue the series. One day while walking in a borderline sketchy neighborhood of Avellaneda, I found this glorious house:
I felt like I was witnessing the birth of a chalet. Finally I could understand where these rare creatures were born. I once had an astronomy professor say that if you took a complete image of all human activities in a single moment you could, if you were a space alien, lets say, piece together the entire cycle of life and death. He was making an analogy for our own observation of the skies, so fleeting on the scale of astronomical time. I remembered this as I saw this house and thought that perhaps my endless walks around the city and suburbs were, perhaps, leading to some gestalt view of the city that transcended time.
I’m maybe getting a little deep here. The reality is both more mundane and more telling. As it turned out a neighbor was sweeping the sidewalk and asked me what I was up to [this happens a lot]. I got to talking to her and she explained that the house belonged to a couple that had a nasty fight and broke up. The title to the house has been tied up in courts for years and así quedó.
2010 was also Argentina’s bicentennial. People always put out flags around May 25th [the date of their first rebellion against Spanish rule] but this year was much more than usual. What I like about the Chalet-style houses in Buenos Aires is their sense of placelessness, despite them being ulta-porteño. I love the little flags as indicators of time and place.
In showing my Chalets around to people, one of the things that people responded to was the context of the site and the absurdity of these little mountain cottages being sandwiched into the urban fabric of flat Buenos Aires. When I first began the series I was really just fascinated with the aesthetics of chalet-style architecture. This year I really focused more on the context. I found myself walking over and over again in dense neighborhoods closer to the city center where I was more likely to find houses like this one. Chalet houses in Argentina are like ranch homes in California. They’re everywhere. The challenge is finding one with no cars parked in front of it.
I also spent a lot of this year taking the train out to random places in the conurbano of Buenos Aires, as its suburbs are known and just taking pictures of stuff. Of course I found lots of Chalets. The one above is from one of my first soujourns to the edge of the city last year. In these cases it becomes less about the context of the site and more about the particularities of the house itself [and what it implies about the tastes and economic status of its occupants]. Here’s one from this year:
Layers of taste in residential construction are, literally, laid one on top of another. If the first photo is the “birth of a chalet,” this one is a sort of mutation, a compromise. It represents perfectly the competition between status and efficiency.