CostMXN $63.8M (USD $5.1M)
Provided new tourist attractions
Used engineering skill
Built to be resilient to earthquakes
Became an icon of Mexico City's skyline
The first skyscraper built in a highly seismic zone
The Torre Latinoamericana is an iconic feature of the Mexico City skyline.
Located in the city’s historic centre, the tower is renowned as an engineering marvel since it was the first skyscraper to be built in a highly seismic zone.
The tower has survived multiple earthquakes, including the infamous 1985 and 2017 events, which shook at a magnitude of 8.1 and 7.1, respectively.
The Aztecs built the city on an islet of Lake Texcoco, and it sits on ancient clay beds and volcanic soils.
This provided another challenge for the engineers, for it makes the ground muddy and sponge-like.
Over the years it’s been observed that buildings in the city centre are sinking.
However, through an innovative approach to foundations, the tower isn’t only not sinking – it's floating!
Did you know …
Completed in 1956, the 44-storey and 182m-tall building was Mexico City’s tallest until 1984, when the Torre Ejecutiva Pemex opened.
Before hosting the skyscraper, this location in the city centre was home to the Moctezuma Zoo and later on, a convent.
The tower was the first glass-covered skyscraper in the world. And, the steel beams for its frame were manufactured by the same company that made the beams for the Empire State Building in New York City, USA.
How was the Torre Latinoamericana built?
Built to house insurance company La Latinoamericana Seguros, SA., the team conducted thorough ground surveys ahead of the tower's construction.
This included the installation of piezometers, which measure pore pressure – key to understanding ground behaviour.
The tower thus sits on 361 point-bearing concrete piles and a foundation slab at a depth of 13.5m that helps secure the building.
The architectural and engineering teams weren't the first to use piles to protect buildings in this highly seismic area.
When the Aztecs were building the ancient city of Tenochtitlan, they would drive wooden piles into the ground to act as shock absorbers from any earth tremors.
They used this method widely, including under the Templo Mayor pyramid.
When it came to building the Torre Latinoamericana itself, it was decided that a steel structure with concrete slabs, embedded in the structure via shear connectors, would provide a good earthquake response.
While developing the dynamic design of the building, the architectural and engineering team considered the most recent strong earthquake to hit the city, which shook at a magnitude of 7.1 in 1911.
A 7.9-magnitude earthquake that shook the city in 1957, a year after the tower’s opening, demonstrated that the dynamic design had worked and that the team had calculated the earthquake’s likely lateral forces correctly.
Difference the tower has made
The construction of the Torre Latinoamericana provided the civil engineering profession with the following knowledge:
- That at the time surveys were conducted (1949), Mexico City was sinking 20cm per year.
- A solution to perform deep excavations in clay with high water content and high deformation characteristics.
- The innovative design and construction of foundations for skyscrapers built on clay and in highly seismic areas.
- Dynamic design methods for buildings located in earthquake-prone areas.
- How architects and engineers can work together to ensure that all materials in the building can withstand an earthquake.
Lessons from the tower’s build were taken by the Mexico City authorities to revise the city’s building code.
Aside from its contribution to civil engineering, the tower has also had a positive economic impact in the area.
Tourist attractions found in the tower include museums, cafés and restaurants with a view, and most famously, an observation deck offering a 360° perspective of the city.
People who made it happen
- Civil engineer: Leonardo Zeevaert Wiechers
- Architect: Augusto H. Álvarez
- Developer: Miguel S Macedo
- Project manager: Adolfo Zeevaert Wiechers