About the Immigration Museum
  • Introduction

    Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero (Tres de Febrero National University) has reconditioned this museum founded in 1974, located in the premises of the old Immigrants’ Hotel with the aim of developing a permanent memory and homage venue to honor those settlers from the second half of the 19th century who came from Europe, Asia, and Africa, and our South American brothers and sisters as well. These are the noble people arriving with purpose of sharing this land, whose tenacious strive substantiates the spirit of our legislation.

    This way, UNTREF reconditions a space both for the construction of historical memory and to reflect on the current conditions of migration; respecting the immigrants who settled and found a homeland and vindicating, at the same time, the indigenous people that are the basis of our nationality. This Immigration Museum has the distinctive feature of presenting the experience of migration to the public through the different segments of the journey itself: arrival, integration and legacy; by ensuring that the audience explores the conditions of the migrant in the past as well as in the present, including historical documentation, photographs, films, and contemporary testimonies. All these materials coexist, in turn, with some artistic interventions such as those of Carlos Trilick, Graciela Sacco, Gabriela Golder, Mariano Sardón and Annemarie Heinrich, with the conviction that symbolic productions contribute to the expansion of meaning and historical reflection.


    With the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the social, economic and political changes it brought about, thousands of people were driven to migrate in search of better horizons. Until the 1870s, overseas travels lasted very long, but technological improvements managed to shorten them a couple of weeks. From then on, the number of immigrants increased year by year. This situation forced the national authorities to provide effective assistance to the newcomers. Different buildings were used for this purpose until the end of the 19th century when it became essential to build a complex that would have all the necessary facilities and services for the proper care of newcomers.

    The construction of the complex began in 1905. The first work was the landing stage with all the necessary amenities to attend the passengers of 1st, 2nd and 3rd class and the offices of Customs, Prefecture and National Direction of Hygiene. It concluded at the end of 1907. The following year the Administration and Management building was built. In 1909 the Infirmary, Laundry rooms and Bathrooms were built. Finally, in 1911 the building where the dining room and the dormitories would be was built and inaugurated. On the ground floor there was the dining room, the kitchen, the bakery and the butcher's shop. On the three upper floors were the bedrooms, four per floor, with a capacity for 250 people each. This building was one of the first in the city to be built in reinforced concrete and it respected all the Hygienic rules of the time: tiled walls, large windows for ventilation, wide corridors and easy to clean stairs.

    The routine of the hosts was very strict. At six o'clock in the morning the caretakers woke up the guests and breakfast was organized in shifts of a thousand people. Then the women took care of the laundry and the children while men arranged for their placement in the labor office. Everyone was free to enter and leave the hotel. With menus ranging from soup, stew with meat, pout, pasta, or rice Lunch was served at noon, and at three o'clock in the afternoon snacks for the children. Dinner would be served from six o'clock onwards,and at seven o'clock the bedrooms would be opened. Throughout the day, courses were offered on the use of agricultural machinery, domestic work, and there were also lectures and screenings on Argentine history, geography and legislation. The accommodation period was stipulated at five days by law, but many people could to stay longer.

    The hotel operated until 1953, and throughout its history about one million people were accomodated there. In 1990, by Decree No. 2402, it was declared a National Historical Monument.

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    Contents on the restoration process carried out by UNTREF/MUNTREF at the IMMIGRANTS HOTEL

    The old Immigrants' Hotel, had been inaugurated in 1911. In 1953 were recorded the last migrants that stayed there. The hotel was later abandoned to its own fate and over the years and by means of its various uses it entered into a process of increasing deterioration. 

    When in 2010 MUNTREF began to develop the Project “BOLTANSKI BUENOS AIRES”, we carried out a search for venues that, because of their history, might be in the interest of the French artist to display his site-specific installation; Boltansky’s focus lies on unveiling the layers of memory as a constitutive part of the contemporary human experience. In 2011 we took him on a "curated" tour of the city of Buenos Aires, starting from Caseros, the MUNTREF headquarters on the University campus where part of this vast exhibition project took place, and from there we travelled to various sites including the IMMIGRANTS HOTEL.

    This was one of the venues chosen for one of the largest interventions carried out by Christian Boltanski. “MIGRANTS” is the title of this installation that occupied the entire third floor of the Hotel, recovering it for the city's cultural circuit. The action of the UNTREF in this first stage was the cleaning, stabilization of masonry, windows, staircases and general sanitation of the south access, from the Ground Floor to the third, including the stairs and respective landings. Among these tasks of stabilization of the building, the fixing of some areas of the façade was also carried out.

    Upon the completion of “MIGRANTS”, the premises had been reinstalled and were beginning to operate within the cultural circuit of the city. It was then that UNTREF's rectorship, headed by Aníbal Jozami (Rector) and Martín Kaufmann (Vice-Rector), decided to take forward a more ambitious recovery program. This implied the signing of a commodatum between UNTREF and the National Directorate of Migration - an institution that occupies part of the building for offices and archives - to carry out the task of reconditioning part of the building and, above all, to develop the previously postponed IMMIGRATION MUSEUM. In addition, the development of the CENTER FOR CONTEMPORARY ART for cultural diversity was added as a counterpoint. Both museums were conceived by the rector's office in collaboration with Diana Wechsler, Deputy Director of research and curatorship, as part of the UNTREF museum complex: the MUNTREF.

    From then on, UNTREF began the process of recovering the IMMIGRANTS HOTEL in successive stages to make best use of the spaces. The criteria used for the restoration were the most up-to-date ones, allowing not only the recovery of the historical architecture, but its re-functionalization as well, taking into account the reversibility of the actions carried out on the building. Accordingly, the original tiles and floors were re-used and upgraded. As to the original storey, the restoration process encompassed the dismantlement of structures endangering the stability of the third floor due to their overload on the aged original concrete construction.

    Likewise, partitions that interrupted the spatial layout of the rooms and sanitary installations that did not correspond to the original floor either were removed. In this way, the third floor was completely reconditioned, with its original spatial distribution: an extensive corridor, crossed by a wide transept with a marble table and two rows of benches of the same material on its sides, plus two rows of wooden and concrete benches covered with tiles on the perimeter of the west side of the transept, and two long pools with their water drains on the side walls of the east side of the transept. This net cross, which is made up of a corridor and a transept, delimits the four large rooms that at the time housed some 250 people each, which meant that each floor could accommodate 1000 immigrants.

    Of these four rooms, the two facing the city were allocated for the MUNTREF IMMIGRATION MUSEUM and the two facing the river for the MUNTREF CENTER OF CONTEMPORARY ART. With the criterion of evoking the "memory of the site", the transit areas (corridor, transept, ground floor, accesses, stairs, and landings) were fully reconditioned respecting the original materials and configuration. 

    The reconditioning tasks were carried out by UNTREF's architecture department, directed by the Architect Gonzalo Garay with the advice of engineers and architects specialized in historic-patrimonial buildings. After some time, the ground floor was operating again as the reception of the Museum where visitors can consult the migration database and research on their origins, bibliography and check-out EDUNTREF's publications, while drinking a coffee in a reconditioned space reminiscent of the old dining room. The small side rooms were used for the Multipurpose Room on one side and the UNTREF's Research Center for Materials and Preventive Conservation on the other.

    Then took place the design and carrying out of the construction of the external circulation column integrated by two lifts and an emergency staircase: a modern iron and glass structure connected by a bridge in the ground floor and another one in the third floor, all made from the same materials of the original building. This work was designed by the Lama-Soler Study invoking a contemporary concept to differentiate it from the original building, and it was evaluated and approved by the National Commission of Monuments and Historical Heritage of the Nation, given that the IMMIGRANTS HOTEL building had already been declared a National Historical Monument in 1992. 

    The work represented a great challenge since the soil study revealed the need for very deep foundations. After one year, this transparent structure not only fulfils the function of facilitating access to the museums on the third floor, but also offers the visitors the possibility of enjoying the beautiful views of the city and the river. Access is totally public and free of charge like nowhere else on our riverfront.

    Overall, the task of reconditioning the IMMIGRANTS HOTEL carried out by UNTREF, has brought back the active presence of an emblematic building for our historical-cultural memory into the tourist-cultural and historical circuit of the city of Buenos Aires. The standards of the works carried out as well as the quality of the projects proposed in its hall rooms puts MUNTREF at the level of other venues with the same characteristics at a global scale.

    Dr. Diana B. Wechsler

    Principal Researcher CONICET

    Director of the UNTREF Art and Culture Research Institute

    Sub-directorate of Research and Curation MUNTREF

    Buenos Aires – Argentina