By Amy Boyle and Lena Folke
In a city where architectural heritage is under threat, Argentinian artist and architect Natalia Kerbabian uses her artistic talent to bring the past back to life. Kerbabian’s drawings of now-demolished houses capture memories, so as to not forget.
For Kerbabian, the preservation of Buenos Aires’ architectural past is not just a matter of sentimentality; it’s about honoring one’s identity, memories, and culture to shape a better future.
NATALIA KERBABIAN, ARTIST, AUTHOR & ARCHITECT: That house was OK, was perfectly conserved. Why would you destroy that?
[FAST UPBEAT MUSIC]
I am Natalia Kerbabian. I am an artist, first of all. I studied architecture. I’m an architect. Nowadays, I’m drawing a lot because there is a lot of destruction in our architecture. Like traditional architecture. It means a lot for us because it’s identities. It’s culture. It’s history. So, I start drawing all the empty spaces, bringing to life that architecture not to forget.
This area used to be full of houses. Beautiful houses.
Then with the drawings, I am really thinking about to add memories. Citizen memories about people who lived there or maybe that has a very specific story about that place that doesn’t exist anymore.
[SOFT SLOW PIANO MUSIC]
I was born here in Buenos Aries. With my grandpa, I used to walk a lot all over the city. We used to go to Parque Rivadavia.
The culture, the history and honoring it always have been part of my life. Yeah, he made me love this city.
That’s why traditional Buenos Aries architecture is everything for us because it’s a mix of cultures. You don’t have just one traditional kind of architecture. You have a lot … an eclectic architecture. They are living together in harmony.
YAMILA RAMBALDI, NEIGHBORHOOD ACTIVIST: I’m a neighbor of Devoto. I’ve lived here my whole life actually, so I have known this neighborhood for a long, long time.
I’m an activist of architectural heritage. I’m very concerned with our city and our neighborhoods and the way they are being destroyed. I became involved with showing this in social media. I’ve been doing this for about three years now.
Now we are in an area called Áreas de Protección Histórica (areas of historical protection), which is an area that is protected by law. And the thing is that the area protection is very general. It’s not that specific. So unless a building is protected specifically with the law, the building can be torn down.
PATRICIO CABRERA, LAWYER FOR BASTA DE DEMOLER: What we do from Basta de Demoler is to use whatever legal tools we have in order to fight cases and try and protect those buildings against government in action and developer’s action.
We have to care about whatever is left because once it’s gone, it never comes back.
[GUITAR DANCE MUSIC]
This is the theory, and then there is the practice. And there are many things that conspire against the protection on the actual preservation of the heritage according to what the law prescribes.
KERBABIAN: They are selling it like a piece of ground!
I feel attracted and in love with architecture in general that has soul.
You can feel the art in the walls, the living thoughts of the one that made it. I fall in love with that architecture.
CABRERA: Natalia’s work is gorgeous because it’s a very intelligent, clever way of preserving, you know, memory of a place, because what she does is something done today of places gone, and to do it in such an intelligent way catches the attention of people that would otherwise not being interested.
KERBABIAN: Houses are a kind of expression of our thoughts, a way of expressing our minds.
About the book, I think that it could be call for everyone.
When I first saw it, I thought, this can’t be true. This is not happening.
CABRERA: When one gets older, the first question that we ask ourselves is who is going to care for this one’s belief when you see young people like Yamila doing that and doing in such a professional, constant, and careful way, that’s the very best encouragement that we know for certain that those new generations will have the same awareness that we do.
KERBABIAN: Buenos Aries, I think it has kind of magical thing in the streets and neighborhoods because you have a lot of memories languages, like songs in each block. When someone or when people touch your identity, your memories, your culture, you have a reaction, like defending it. You need to conserve and honor your past to build your future.
Filmed in Buenos Aries February 2023 with the support of local reporter Maggie Folcia. Amy Boyle and Lena Folke are Medill graduate students in the magazine and video & broadcast specializations. You can connect with either of them at @amyboylephoto (Linkedin) www.amyboylephotography.com and @Lena Folke.