In 1985 Mexico City suffered a devastating earthquake. Occurring in the early morning on September 19, the quake took the lives of more than 5,000 people. The earthquake’s vibrations of the lakebed sediments beneath the city also destabilized its skyscrapers. Such was the devastation that one nine-story tower collapsed, its piles ripped from the ground. New building codes were implemented after the disaster and now Mexican architecture practice L. Benjamin Romano Arquitectos (LBRA), working alongside working alongside engineering firm Arup’s New York office, has produced an earthquake-resistant skyscraper designed to last 2,500 years.
Apartment Complex Pino Suárez in the wake of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. (Courtesy United States Geological Survey)
Rising to 57-stories, Arup conceived pre-tensioned double-V hangers to brace the facade. According to a press release, in practice the skyscraper—named Torre Reforma (Tower Reform)—has an “inherent tendency to twist when subjected to lateral loads and wind” and “earthquake forces.” While creating a signature aesthetic for the building, the hangers also provide visual reassurance of the its structural qualities.
Materiality was a key component of the design process for the tower. Arup said that the finish of the concrete was “critical”; the firm evaluated numerous design mixes. Their final choice resulted in a smooth surface, free from honeycombing or other flaws. Poured in increments of 27 inches, the finish highlights the color variations that are commonplace in similar types of pours.
In addition to its tectonics, the building’s circulatory aspects were another area of focus. With a triangular floor-plan, LBRA strayed away from using the central core that’s norm in skyscrapers. At Torre Reforma, the elevators and egress stairways are contained in the apex of the triangle. Long-span pyramidal floor trusses facilitate concealing the building’s services. These trusses also enable dramatic column-free interiors and sweeping views of the city and the nearby Chapultepec Park.
Additionally, Torre Reforma is a pre-certified as a LEED Platinum Core and Shell project, as it makes use of various water conservation systems and a combination of automated and passive ventilation systems to moderate temperature.
“Arup has been indispensable in helping to transform my architectural vision into an efficient and buildable structure,” said Benjamin Romano, Principal of LBRA, in a press release. “They have provided innovative solutions to the complex seismic issues in Mexico City and have been instrumental in helping the bidding contractors understand that Torre Reforma is not more complex than standard vertical construction; it just applies traditional construction methods, that contractors are already familiar with, in a new and different way.”
Tabitha Tavolaro, Associate Principal at Arup and project manager for Torre Reforma, added, “Building tall structures in Mexico City often means working in constrained conditions. Challenges can include small or irregular sites, coordinating diverse teams, and, of course, seismic hazards. In this project, we partnered with LBRA to create robust solutions that bring value to the client as well as the community.”