INTRODUCTION

Design can help to anticipate, prevent and respond to natural and man-made disasters. Consider the buildings that shelter us and the clothes that protect us, the infrastructure that brings us water, electricity, healthcare and communication. Canada plays an international role as peacekeeper and provider of humanitarian assistance and emergency relief. This unit looks at a Canadian architecture firm that designed a high-rise building to withstand severe earthquakes in Mexico City, and includes an activity that explores why Hurricane Katrina had such a destructive and deadly impact on New Orleans.

 

DESIGN

Design Discipline: Architecture


Design Defined

Design:

When used as a verb, design means thinking about, conceiving and executing an idea. It is a creative, problem-solving process. When used as a noun, design refers to the result or product of suc Read More

INTRODUCTION

Design can help to anticipate, prevent and respond to natural and man-made disasters. Consider the buildings that shelter us and the clothes that protect us, the infrastructure that brings us water, electricity, healthcare and communication. Canada plays an international role as peacekeeper and provider of humanitarian assistance and emergency relief. This unit looks at a Canadian architecture firm that designed a high-rise building to withstand severe earthquakes in Mexico City, and includes an activity that explores why Hurricane Katrina had such a destructive and deadly impact on New Orleans.

 

DESIGN

Design Discipline: Architecture


Design Defined

Design:

When used as a verb, design means thinking about, conceiving and executing an idea. It is a creative, problem-solving process. When used as a noun, design refers to the result or product of such cognitive processes.

 
Architecture:

Architecture means both the act of designing buildings and structures as well as the label given to buildings of all kinds.


Dampers:

similar to shock absorbers in cars, the dampers used on the Torre Mayor building have a cylinder and piston design where the piston forces oil through orifices to apply over a million pounds of force.

 

DESIGNER

Zeidler Partnership Architects (Toronto, Ontario)

Senior Partner Eberhard H. Zeidler first joined an architectural practice in 1951. The firm evolved to become Zeidler Partnership Architects with offices in Canada, England, Germany, China and the United States. While most of the company's work can be found in North America, they are also well known in Europe and Asia. From large mixed-use complexes such as the Eaton Centre and Ontario Place in Toronto or Canada Place in Vancouver, to small residences and offices, the firm offers a variety of services including architecture, interior design, signage, master planning and urban planning.

 

CLIENT

The developer Reichmann International wanted to build a high-quality office space in Mexico City. Reichmann has worked with Zeidler Partnership on a variety of projects around the world.

 

DESIGN CHALLENGE

Zeidler Partnership was asked to design a premiere corporate skyscraper in Mexico City that would attract high-profile clients, help to restore faith in downtown Mexico City, and reinvigorate the city's economy. The client wanted the tower to become a new symbol for the most populated city in the world, and most importantly, to survive earthquakes. Not only is Mexico City situated over a high-risk earthquake zone called "Cocos Plate", but the city is also sinking. It sits on top of a drying lake, forcing the architects to work with difficult, shifting soil conditions. Most of Central and South America is considered a high-risk earthquake area. Zoning laws prevent the construction of buildings taller than 38 storeys because of the risks these structures pose. Zeidler Partnership was challenged to design a cost effective 55-storey building.

 

 DESIGN SOLUTION

 Zeidler Partnership worked closely with engineers to ensure that their design achieved its greatest potential. Steel, reinforced concrete and an innovative system of 98 dampers bordering the building make Torre Mayor resilient to tremors. During earthquakes, buildings have a tendency to sway at the top causing greater damage and potentially hitting other structures. If an earthquake hits Torre Mayor, the dampers in the basement will absorb most of the shock. As the impact travels up the building, the dampers continue to lessen the vibration, resulting in little movement at the top. The result is a skyscraper with structural dependability in earthquakes measuring up to 8.5 on the Richter scale. In January 2003, the building's strength was tested when the coast of Mexico experienced an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.6, causing 30 seconds of shaking in Mexico City. At the time, 31 floors of Torre Mayor were occupied. Tenants noticed the dampers moving outside of their windows, but stated that they did not feel the full strength of the earthquake from inside. No damage was reported.

The design of Torre Mayor also addresses environmental and economic issues. Mexico is known for having unreliable electricity even in the most expensive hotels. Torre Mayor has high-capacity electrical wiring to sustain power without interruption. Glass windows allow natural light and heat in the building without the harm of UV rays. The "grey water" is recycled, meaning that dirty water from sinks is then used in the toilets before entering the sewage system. The air intake is double filtered, reducing pollution by 94% and making it the cleanest air in Mexico City. Torre Mayor is located on the prestigious Paseo de la Reforma, the busiest street in the country. Also known as "Emperor's Avenue,"  this historically significant street leads to the Chapultepec Tower. Zeidler Partnership prides itself in designing buildings that respond to the needs of their clients and respect the neighbourhoods where they are built. The glass front of Torre Mayor follows the curve of the street and features a courtyard which acts as an outdoor lobby to welcome guests and tenants. The back of the tower is stone and reflects the neighbourhood behind it.


Some facts about Torre Mayor:

  •  738 feet tall and 55-storeys high
  •  Top is 8,500 feet above sea level
  •  77,000 square metres of office space
  •  Built in 5 years with 1,800 workers
  •  designed for 8,000 people
  •  Central and South America's tallest skyscraper at the time of its opening in 2003
  •  Resists winds of 160 miles per hour
  • Inside air changes 6 times per hour to avoid build up of bacteria from polluted air in the city
  •  Windows are 2.5cm thick
  •  Features 98 dampers to absorb the shock of an earthquake
  •  13 floors are used for parking space with room for 2,000 vehicles
  •  2 floors are used for stores and fast food restaurants
  •  All floors are connected by 27 elevators
  •  The roof of the building has a helicopter landing pad for evacuation in case of emergency
  •  The first high-rise in Mexico to use dual steel structures
  •  In September, spotlights shine from the top of the building representing the colours of Mexico's flag

Zeidler Partnership Architects http://www.zrpa.com/to/frameset/mainframeset.htm

Emporis http://www.emporis.com/en/wm/bu/?id=100352

Luxner News Inc. http://www.luxner.com/cgi-bin/view_article.cgi?articleID=134

Scot Forge http://www.scotforge.com/sf_articles_torremayor.htm

Laidlaw, Stuart. "Reaching for the Top." Toronto Star 17 Oct. 2005, sec C1.

Laidlaw, Stuart. "55-storey shock-absorber." Toronto Star 17 Oct. 2005, sec C5.

Laidlaw, Stuart. "Strides and setbacks." Toronto Star 10 Oct. 2005, sec C1.

Alvarez Garreta, Ariadna. "Skyscraper Architects." Barcelona: Atrium Group 2004. 200-205

Anaya, ɤgar. "Echa un vistazo a la Torre Mayor" Grupo Reforma. 13 Oct. 2003: 17 pars. Online. Available: http://www.mural.com/deviaje/articulo/310416/

Balbaa, Taymoore. "Does impressive new skyscraper development in Mexico City include or alienate the city's inhabitants" Canadian Architect (July 2005):


© 2006, Design Exchange. All Rights Reserved.

The glass front of the Torre Mayor follows the curve of the street.

Torre Mayor is located on the prestigious Paseo de la Reforma, the busiest street in the country. The glass front of the building follows the curve of the street and features a courtyard which acts as an outdoor lobby to welcome guests and tenants.

Photograph by Luis Gordoa, Building designed by Zeidler Partnership Architects
2003
Mexico City, MEXICO
© 2006, Design Exchange. All Rights Reserved.


This plan of the ground floor illustrates the open courtyard entrance and spaces allotted for retail.

This plan of the ground floor of Torre Mayor illustrates the open courtyard entrance and spaces allotted for retail. It also show essential services including elevators, a loading dock and the flow of traffic in the parking lot.

Zeidler Partnership Architects
2003
Mexico City, MEXICO
Zeidler Partnership Architects


The roof of the Torre Mayor has a helicopter landing pad for evacuation in case of emergency.

Like other buildings in Mexico City, the roof of the Torre Mayor has a helicopter landing pad for evacuation in case of emergency. During an earthquake, it can be easier to evacuate people from the top than at street level.

Top two illustrations by Pedro Hiriart and Jeronimo Cruz Sosa, bottom diagram by Zeidler Partnership
2003
Mexico City, MEXICO
Zeidler Partnership Architects


Illustration showing how the dampers work

Steel, reinforced concrete and an innovative system of 98 dampers bordering the building make Torre Mayor resilient to tremors. The skyscraper is structurally dependable in earthquakes measuring up to 8.5 on the Richter scale.

Diagram by Pedro Hiriart and Jeronimo Cruz Sosa
2003
Mexico City, MEXICO
Zeidler Partnership Architects


This cross-section of the Torre Mayor foundation illustrates how the site was excavated.

This cross-section of the Torre Mayor foundation illustrates how the site was excavated and how the building is constructed to withstand unstable soil conditions.

Diagram by Archivo Reichmann International, Design by Zeidler Partnership Architects
2003
Mexico City, MEXICO
Archivo Reichmann International.


This photo montage illustrates the sheer height of Torre Mayor in comparison to its surroundings.

This photo montage illustrates the sheer height of Torre Mayor in comparison to its surroundings. The busy street below is also known as ‘Emperor’s Avenue,’ and leads to the Chapultepec Tower.

Forsham
2003
Mexico City, MEXICO
Forsham


This elevation reveals the function of each floor from the underground parking up to the heliport.

This elevation reveals the function of each floor from the underground parking up to the heliport. It demonstrates how the dampers are positioned around the building.

Zeidler Partnership Architects
2003
Mexico City, MEXICO
Zeidler Partnership Architects


Three partners speak about why they became architects.

Eberhard Zeidler, Rob Eley & Dalibor Vodac speak about why they became architects Zeidler: "I wanted to be an architect when I was 13 and still do. I studied in Germany and then practiced in Germany and then got an offer from a Canadian firm and then I came here in 1951. Then I developed this firm and it is still running." Eley: "Back in grade 9 a friend and I used to go to the school of architecture at U of T when they had their open houses and it struck me that it was a marvelous way to spend your time – building models and doing drawings and that kind of thing. We attended all of the open houses throughout high school. He didn’t, in the end, actually apply, but U of T architecture was the only thing I applied for coming out of high school and luckily I made it in. I’ve been working with Eb for 32 years now." Dalibor: "Not unlike Eb, I was located in Europe. I came from the Czech Republic and studied in Prague […]. I practiced in the Czech Republic for 15 years and then started working in Canada. So I have a unique view in terms of how the practice of Europe is set up and how it operates in North America. I think the appeal of the firm was that it’s the closest to the studio type of office where most of the offices at the time were purely business."

Qasim Virjee
Eb Zeidler, Rob Eley, Dalibor Vokac, Carolina Eyzaguirre, Elise Hodson
March 2006
CANADA Toronto Region, Ontario, Toronto Region, CANADA
© 2006, Design Exchange. All Rights Reserved.


The philosophy behind Zeidler Partnership Architects.

Their Design Philosophy "What we believe is that we don’t have a ‘mark’ in that we do curved buildings or round buildings or square buildings. We try to build what is needed and find out first what is the need of the building. What does the client look for and how does that fit into the environment? Because it’s not just the client but it’s the place where you build it. If you build in a city, you’re not just building for yourself but you’re building for the whole city so you have to respond to the needs of the city and that all has to be integrated and then formed to the building. There are times when the building has to be respecting the historic buildings and combined with them, or it has to be an integrated part of the street front, or it has to be a powerful building on its own."

Qasim Virjee
Eb Zeidler, Rob Eley, Dalibor Vokac, Carolina Eyzaguirre, Elise Hodson
March 2006
CANADA Toronto Region, Ontario, Toronto Region, CANADA
© 2006, Design Exchange. All Rights Reserved.


Choosing the location for Mexico’s tallest building and designing it within the context of Mexico City’s most famous avenue.

Choosing the location for Mexico's tallest building and designing it within the context of Mexico City's most famous avenue. Eley: "They [devloper Reichmann International] wanted to build in Mexico City. They were actually interested in three projects, and this was one of them. But initially they studied about 5 or 6 different sites within the city near the boulevard that Eb [Zeidler] mentioned, seeking the one they felt answered their needs the best for this particular project. There were four or five people from the office involved originally producing alternative designs for each of the sites. When they reviewed those in the context of their analysis they decided to pursue this site and they decided to pursue one of the designs that had come out of our studies. The two of us [Eley, Dalibor] were primarily involved on a day to day basis working out the details for the design." Dalibor: "Again, at the beginning we were looking at two towers on each side of the street but that was a quite complex transaction of property ownership. We were attracted to that particular site and the site dictates the size of the building. There was a negotiation with the city - it's quite a political issue."

Qasim Virjee
Eb Zeidler, Rob Eley, Dalibor Vokac, Carolina Eyzaguirre, Elise Hodson
March 2006
Mexico City, MEXICO
© 2006, Design Exchange. All Rights Reserved.


Choosing the location for Mexico’s tallest building and designing it within the context of Mexico City’s most famous avenue.

Choosing the location for Mexico’s tallest building and designing it within the context of Mexico City’s most famous avenue. "That was a building that was a major building that had to make its mark. While it integrates with the city, […] this is a big avenue that used to be the processional avenue of the old emperor. It went from the downtown business district to his palace. And that street, which was strictly a processional street, became finally a car street for hundreds of cars. It was a Champs-Elysees, a huge street. But before the palace, they [the cars] can’t go through the palace, it [the street] turns and swung through Capultepec park. At this turn sits our building and so we needed to indicate that turn of the street. So we made the front part this curved section that follows the street while the back part of the building is kind of a stone building in response to the pattern and the texture of the streets. On the street level, to deal with the pedestrians, we built this courtyard with the two parts of the shopping moving out and then the entrance into the tower itself so that it’s a part of the pedestrian flow."

Qasim Virjee
Zeidler Partnership Architects, Carolina Eyzaguirre, Elise Hodson, Qasim Virjee
March 2006
Mexico City, MEXICO
© 2006, Design Exchange. All Rights Reserved.


Mexico City is sinking. The challenges of building on top of a ‘soup.’

Mexico City is sinking. The challenge of building on top of a ‘soup’. "Dalibor: [Mexico City is situated on a] drying lake. The city is pumping the water for its use so the whole lake layer is slowly sinking. [Buildings with good foundations] have support [and] they stay where they are [but the ground is sinking around them] so they have to add, every so often, a step because [the buildings] actually rise from the ground." Eley: "Basically the building [Torre Mayor] is standing on a number of piles that reach firmer ground through the city and the substance of the surrounding land. What I was told at one point was that depending on the characteristics of vibration in the soil, in any given site, buildings of certain heights are more dangerous than others. In other words you could do a map of San Francisco with, shall we say, forbidden heights. To develop 30 storey buildings might be perfectly alright to develop over here. Whereas over here, due to the characteristics of the soil, they would actually pick up the vibration. There are actually places where ten storey buildings are not appropriate, and [other] places where twenty story buildings are safe."

Qasim Virjee
Zeidler Partnership Architects, Carolina Eyzaguirre, Elise Hodson, Qasim Virjee
March 2006
Mexico City, MEXICO
© 2006, Design Exchange. All Rights Reserved.


Engineering Mexico’s safest building: the black art of designing for earthquakes.

Engineering Mexico’s safest building: the black art of designing for earthquakes. Eley: "We were once told by a very dear engineer friend of ours, I mean as a firm, that it’s a black art. And every time a major earthquake happens the engineering opinion on how to design for seismic situations begins to change based on the way buildings designed in the interim have actually reacted." Dalibor: "It is a surprising discovery that the tall buildings actually behave much better than the buildings around ten storeys which are the most dangerous buildings in terms of collapse. Its like if the tower is long enough to flexibly deal with the movement, it’s ok, whereas the small buildings they just break. Mexico City is similar to California in having a stringent watch on earthquakes so they [the two cities] actually cooperated in terms of research and in terms of how to apply techniques to evacuate and fight fires."

Qasim Virjee
Zeidler Partnership Architects, Carolina Eyzaguirre, Elise Hodson, Qasim Virjee
march 2006
Mexico City, MEXICO
© 2006, Design Exchange. All Rights Reserved.


Engineering Mexico’s safest building: the black art of designing for earthquakes.

Engineering Mexico’s safest building: the black art of designing for earthquakes. Eley: "here were three architects involved, all told. There needed to be a local Mexican architect and for each discipline – structural, mechanical, etc. and such – there were local engineers employed as well as engineers that Reichmann most often had dealt with." Dalibor: "I think it’s the engineers’ rather unique way – and it’s up for the jury to decide whether it’s the correct way or not – in our case it saved a lot of steel and other technical issues were simplified."

Qasim Virjee
Zeidler Partnership Architects, Carolina Eyzaguirre, Elise Hodson, Qasim Virjee
March 2006
Mexico City, MEXICO
© 2006, Design Exchange. All Rights Reserved.


Dampers, like shock absorbers in cars, were used on the outside of the building to reduce vibration caused by earthquakes.

Dampers, like shock absorbers in cars, were used on the outside of the building to reduce vibration caused by earthquakes. Dalibor: "Well, it is a surprising discovery that the tall buildings actually behave much better than the buildings around ten storeys which are the most dangerous buildings because they collapse. The tall towers survive because the tower is long enough to flexibly deal with the movement, [but] the small buildings they just break. It’s the impact of the dampers which helps – it’s like the shock absorbers in a car. When the wheel jumps up and down because of the frequency, and it would just jump more and more, the damper calms the wheel so that it stays in place. It is literally the same technology." Eley: "It may literally be that by the time the vibration starts, it’s strongest at the base and [weakest at] the top because the damping its actually diminished somewhat. But I think it’s more the case if you were to compare it to a traditional type of structure, when the earth starts to move because of the period of vibration of the building, sometimes the vibration of the building gets more and more and that’s why buildings collapse. That is when it hits a particular vibration that the building responds to. The damping diminishes that. Five minutes after the seismic event, the building settles down a lot quicker than it would if it didn’t have the damper."

Qasim Virjee
Zeidler Partnership Architects, Carolina Eyzaguirre, Elise Hodson, Qasim Virjee
March 2006
Mexico City, MEXICO
© 2006, Design Exchange. All Rights Reserved.


In January 2003, an earthquake on the coast of Mexico tested Torre Mayor’s strength.

In January 2003 an earthquake on the coast of Mexico tested Torre Mayor's strength Dalibor: "I guess it turned into a marketing issue where they got to say this is the safest building in Mexico City." Eley: "I think it was over a 7 [on the Richter Scale]. [It happened] after much of the curtain wall, if not all of it was up, and they weren't sure how it was going to react as it was the first time they had ever undergone anything like that. And not a pane was cracked so "clearly the damping system was working as expected."

Qasim Virjee
Zeidler Partnership Architects, Carolina Eyzaguirre, Elise Hodson, Qasim Virjee
March 2006
Mexico City, MEXICO
© 2006, Design Exchange. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

Students gain an understanding of how the international community responds to natural and man-made disasters. They research political, economic, and geographic factors contributing to human and environmental devastation. Students explore design innovations that respond to human needs in dangerous situations, natural disasters, and in a variety of climates. Applying the design process through research and collaborative problem-solving, they engage multiple learning styles and cognitive skills; practice planning, organization, and interpersonal skills through group work; use current technology to research the problem, and develop language and oral speaking skills when presenting their final solutions.

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