My Favourite Plan

Buenos Aires

Sebastian Loew

First National Bank of Boston map of Buenos Aires

WHY I LIKE IT…

Is it a plan? Is it a map? Is it a diagram? It is a piece of plasticised card that fits into a wallet. Well before Google maps or mobile phones, this card was given to clients of the First National Bank of Boston in Buenos Aires at the end of each year. On one side was a calendar (1961 in this case) and on the other a map of the central area of the city.

The city’s layout is a grid of approximately 100m square blocks. Each block’s addresses are within 100 numbers and correspond approximately to the position of the entrance within the block. The blocks number start at 0 on the river (at the bottom of the map) in one direction, and on either side of the main avenue at the centre of the map (Av. Rivadavia) in the other direction. But unlike Manhattan where the streets are East or West on either side of 5th Avenue, the north point in our card is on the right, west is at the top and east at the bottom. So for eastwest streets 560 is an address in block 500, five blocks from the river, and some 60m from the beginning of the block. North-south streets change names at the central avenue and it helps to know which side of it you are looking for. Little arrows on the edge of the map tells you the direction of the traffic on each street.

The plan has no scale and is not a realistic representation of the city but an abstraction that helps orientation.

Once you have learned these basic rules, finding a location in the city is simpler than having a satnav and does not need a phone connection. Most people know from memory the order of streets at least in the area they frequently use, and will know how far they are from a particular address. Fifty years after leaving the city, I can still recite the names of streets in the right order, in one of the map’s quartiles. And if looking for any address in the city centre, a quick look at the card will help me to find it.

WHAT TO LEARN FROM IT…

I love the rational design and presentation of this helpful piece of kit and am amazed by the fact that its form and dimensions resemble that of a phone screen, which wasn’t in anybody’s imagination at the time. It shows that we can manage well with lowtech design products, provided the urban structure is simple and rational. For a long time, urban designers have been advocates of grid developments and many cities in the New World are based on such grids (so were those founded by the Romans). These can be represented in a diagrammatic form and easily understood by visitors as well as locals. And contrary to the myth, they are not necessarily monotonous.

URBAN DESIGN 148 Autumn 2018 Publication Urban Design Group

As featured in URBAN DESIGN 148 Autumn 2018

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Urban Design Group Article - Buenos Aires by Sebastian Loew

Sebastian Loew

Current Position

Freelance consultant and co-editor of Urban Design

Experience

Many years teaching planning at South Bank University and urban design at the University of Westminster Urban design training for local authorities and practices Writing on urban design and related issues Design review

Education

Architecture, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina Diploma in Town Planning, Architectural Association, London PhD, Reading University

Specialisation

Jack of all trades

Ambitions

Not many left…