urban icon. rafaela cultural centre in the former central market

Urban icon. Rafaela Cultural Centre in the former Central Market

Ana Carolina Bierrenbach, Federico Calabrese

Rafaela is an Argentinean city of about one hundred thousand inhabitants in the Province of Santa Fe. The city is formed by the so-called private colonization with European farmers, fomented by the Argentine Confederation during the first half of the nineteenth century.

In 1881, the Swiss Guillermo Lehmann gave the use of land to eleven families, thus starting the colony. The areas that belonged to the landowners of Buenos Aires were administered by the Swiss entrepreneur. The system of private colonization in the territory of Santa Fe was organised into three sectors: North, Central and South. The Rafaela colony was formed by Italian, Swiss and German families.

The land was donated to the farmers who paid it with part of their harvest. In a few years, the population increased significantly and in 1913 Rafaela was declared a city through a Government Decree of the Province. The city received its name due to Rafaela de Egusquiza, who was the wife of the administrator of the colonization enterprise and who sold the lands where the colony was formed.

Since 1890, the economic growth of the city was remarkable and Rafalea became a significant railway junction, with connections from Rosario, Santa Fe, Cordoba and Buenos Aires.

The economic growth of Rafaela was mainly connected to the massive cultivation of cereals. In the early twentieth century, the city was transformed into an important commercial hub, with a flourishing flour and handicraft industry and with cattle rearing activities. The first urban nucleus grew around Piazza 25 de Mayo, the central point of the urban chessboard plan designed by Guillermo Lhemann. The square is the starting point of the four main boulevards of the city, where the first relevant buildings were built, such as the Church, the first commercial buildings and the first public meeting space.

With the arrival of the railway line, a new urban plan for the expansion of the city was proposed, with the insertion of a new axis, diagonal in respect of the existing chessboard plan. The idea was to build a new city called Rafaela Stazione and, even if the project was never completed, this diagonal layout is present and visible in some neighbourhoods built on that occasion.

One of the significant buildings of the Rafaela urban layout is the Central Market. Rafaela´s Market is, as for many other cities, a fundamental element, materialized in an austere and elegant architecture that has, above all, a great social, economic and cultural value. It is, obviously, the point of reference for commerce, but this role, in a city relatively small in terms of space and population, represents something more and turns out to be an urban sign, capable of qualifying and giving life to its surroundings.

The building was realised in 1929 and functioned as a central market until 1971. It was later transformed into a bus station and then, more recently, into a parking area. From 2014, after a public architecture contest, the Old Central Market of Rafaela was returned to the population, transformed into the Cultural Centre of the Old Market. The process that led to the first competition, and to its construction, was part of a communal and collective process of participatory dialogue with the local population. The project was drafted by a team of architects from Rosario and from the city itself, formed by Gerardo Caballero, Fabián Llonch, Ariel Gimenez Rita and Carlos Airaudo. The design includes the restoration of the facades of the Central Market, its internal requalification, and comprises the construction, in the adjacent lot, of a conference centre and a hotel. Up to now, only the project related to the Market building has been realized. The large covered area of the Market houses the offices of various municipal organs linked to culture and education, as well as exhibition spaces for conferences and seminars. The Old Central Market returns to be a fundamental piece for the cultural activities of the city and of the surrounding territory, thus endowing it with new meanings linked to its new functions.

The cultural centre is in a strategic and central position. In the future it will be equipped, as previously mentioned, with a new adjacent building that, for its form and implantation, will create a new public square designed in accordance with both urban patterns, the one connected with the city’s foundation and the other linked to its never concluded expansion. In this way, the relationship with the surrounding area will become stronger and marked by the new entrance from the public square and by a continuous external/internal paving that will reduce the boundaries between the building and the city. In these spaces, recovered to the city and for the city, there will be outdoor cultural and commercial activities.

The original volume of the Market remains intact and its facades are recovered and restored, as well as its internal spatiality that is enriched with a mezzanine floor that seems to float inside the market aisle. The ground floor hosts the Museum of Fine Arts "Urbano Poggi" and the Museum of Photography, which also has separate and independent entrances from the outside.

The large space of the central nave of the Old Market is occupied by the Municipal Library "Lermo Balbi", its reading room and literary coffee that relate to the square and the surrounding areas of the market.

The design foresees the future construction of a building adjacent to the Old Market, which will host a congress centre and a building for hotels and offices. The Congress Centre is configured as a triangular plate to form the new proposed square, with its access directly from the square and an internal connection with the cultural centre. The hotel building is located at the bottom of the triangular plate, with its main facade facing north to receive the best natural lighting. It has an independent entrance and internal connection with the convention centre.

The entire project has been designed to be implemented in stages. The first of these was the restoration of the facades of the ancient market and its subsequent transformation into a cultural centre, with the construction of the mezzanine floor. These first phases are in fact already implemented. The following phases are the removal of some shacks annexed to the market and the creation of the square with the construction first of the Congress Centre and then of the hotel.

All the construction phases have been designed not to prevent the normal running of the activities already under way.

One aspect the designers have carefully studied is environmental sustainability. The large pitched roof of the market allows the reuse of rainwater that is used to minimize the internal consumption of water, even drinking water.

Natural light is a fundamental element of the project. The existing structure already allows the use of natural lighting and the new volumes placed on the mezzanine floor are plastically designed to facilitate the entry of natural light, in order to lower the costs of electricity. Moreover, the existent passive ventilation system of the original project of the Central Market has been restored and will help with the thermal comfort inside the spaces.




Rafaela Cultural Center


City of Rafaela


Rafaela – Santa Fe, Argentina

Project Year


Architecture and Design

Gerardo Caballero, Fabián Llonch, Ariel Gimenez Rita, Carlos Airaudo

Project Team

Pablo Leguizamón, Mariana Carnevale, Jaime Cumpa Lopez, Manuel Giró


Orengo y Asociados

Additional Functions

Model: Guido Altuzarra

Main Contractor: Menara Construcciones

Size and total area

4.590 m2

Image credits

Federico Cairoli