BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Why build a Teletubby-shaped rooftop water tank? Or try to install a replica of the Eiffel Tower on top of a semi-abandoned building?
It is often difficult to explain the proliferation of unusual works of art that dot the vast urban belt of some 11 million people outside Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires.
In this vast swath of tree-lined neighborhoods coexisting with zones of chaos—apparently built with little or no urban planning—many residents have erected grand, eyebrow-raising surprises.
Creators are usually construction workers or shop owners, although some artists strive to leave their signature on their neighborhood.
Pedro Flores describes the outskirts of Buenos Aires as a “post-apocalyptic paradise” near the center of the capital. He and two friends maintain an Instagram account, “The Walking Conurban,” a play on the words “conurbano bonaerense,” as the 40 or so municipalities are known in Spanish.
The page daily posts images from these suburbs, often tinged with a bit of magical realism: a dinosaur on the dirty streets of a slum; two Minion dolls greeting people from home; statue of liberty in the middle of a meadow.
Here are some of the works visited by the Associated Press.
A replica of the Eiffel Tower sits on a street corner roof in the town of La Tablada. Miguel Muñoz, 58, proudly explains how his father, a blacksmith, built it from scrap iron with directions from brochures from the French embassy.
“He gave it to me on my birthday, so I’m not selling it,” Munoz said.
The tower is a symbol in the neighborhood. “One time I took it down to paint it and the neighbors went crazy thinking someone had stolen it,” Munoz said.
On the terrace of a two-story house stands a large kettle-shaped water tank, like those used by Argentines to make their favorite tea-like infusion known as mate. It was built in 1957 by the Italian immigrant Victorio Smerilli and some relatives.
“They decided to make it as a replica of the Victor teapot that they sold in a shop located downstairs in that same house,” said Gustavo Smerilli, the immigrant’s grandson.
Adriana Paoli runs an art workshop in the building and is pursuing a project to restore the kettle.
“If I say, ‘I have my workshop in the kettle,’ everyone knows the place,” she said.
STATUE OF LIBERTY
In the municipality of General Rodríguez, behind a modest house, a replica of the Statue of Liberty rises above a field where horses and cows graze.
The 15-meter (49-foot) tall structure is a remnant of the Liberty Motocross track that was run there years ago, property keeper Pablo Sebastian said.
THE BOATHOUSE GORILLA
Sitting peacefully on a rock, next to the door of a boat-shaped house in the city of San Miguel, Pepe the gorilla drinks from a mate gourd. The creator of the house and the gorilla statue is the sculptor and artist Hector Duarte, who died in 2020.
Duarte’s family has received offers to buy the cement sculpture, but they refuse to sell.
BUSTS OF EVITA AND JUAN PERON
In the courtyard of the same house where Pepe the gorilla presides, Duarte can be seen hugging busts of Juan Domingo Peron, the three-time president of Argentina.
Duarte’s family borrows the sculptures for official ceremonies.
MONTE GRANDE WATER TANK
The huge water tank in the main square of Monte Grande became a work of art in 2020 when, at the request of the municipality, the artist Leandro García Pimentel painted on it a mural depicting fire, earth, air and water.
The water tank has become a place for meetings and public ceremonies, and newlyweds pose for photos in front of it.
On the street outside the house of mason Daniel Neese, in the Sol de Oro slum in Esseiza, a dinosaur greets visitors.
“My son wanted a rubber (dinosaur) and it was expensive, so I decided to make this out of recycled stuff and materials,” Neese said.
He previously had the dinosaur on a patio at his house, but decided to place it outside so people could take pictures of the 1.2-ton structure.
THE HAND OF GOD FOR WATER
A water tank made to look like a large hand holding a soccer ball sits on the roof of a house in the La Cumbre neighborhood on the outskirts of La Plata, recalling the famous goal Diego Maradona scored with his hand against England at the 1986 World Cup.
It was designed by a deceased mason who was well known to local residents.
COLISEUM, THE TOWER OF PISA AND THE ARCH TRIUMPH
Replicas of these European masterpieces in the municipality of Ituzaingó were carried out by the artist and architect Rubén Díaz, who is considered a “fantasy generator”. Diaz’s goal is, in part, to allow his neighbors to “travel” to places they would normally never see.
The Colosseum, which is 200 square meters (2,153 square feet) in area and 8 meters (26 feet) high, recreates the Roman amphitheater.
The Argentine version of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris is 11 meters (36 ft) tall and has the late comedian Carlitos Bala immortalized on one side.
Meanwhile, the Leaning Tower of Pisa sits in the front garden of a private property. Diaz proposed the construction of the Great Wall of China in 2023.
Homer Simpson, the father from the television series The Simpsons, smiles and gives a thumbs up from atop the aluminum roof of a restaurant in the town of Ciudadella. At the front of the restaurant, which serves grilled pieces of meat, is the silhouette of Maradona running with a ball.
TELETUBBY WATER TANK
Poe, the red Teletubby with a circular antenna, smiles as he surveys a long and busy highway. But Po is not there just for decoration – it is the cover of a water tank on a building in the city of Ciudadella.
Ignacio Castro, who rents the apartment just below the reservoir, said that when he moved in, he found the head of the character from the famous children’s show in the kitchen. He gave it to his uncle, but the owner of the building demanded it be returned to him.
FIGURES OF IMMIGRANTS
Also in Ciudadella, about 20 human-scale figures appear in a row in the front garden of the home of Antonio Hierache, an Italian immigrant who arrived in Argentina in 1949 and worked as a bricklayer.
As a hobby, he designed statues dedicated to migrants, including a man carrying two suitcases, and tributes to workers such as hairdressers and blacksmiths.
HOUSE WITH THE TRANSFORMERS
In the town of Adrogue, gardener Juan Acosta mows the grass in his yard, where there are six robots that look like Transformers from the 1980s American TV show. Passersby can see Transformers from the sidewalk.
“Curious people take pictures on a daily basis,” Acosta said of the robots made from recycled materials.