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Su arquitecto, Augusto H. Álvarez, se inspiró en el edificio de la Chrysler y el Empire State Building para su construcción. Photo: Getty Images.
Its architect, Augusto H. Álvarez, was inspired by the Chrysler Building and Empire State Building for its construction. Photo: Getty Images.

'La Latino,' the story behind the oldest earthquake-resistant skyscraper in the world

Located in Mexico City and standing 182 meters high, the Torre Latinoamericana is 65 years old.

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Mexico's Pacific coast, on the Ring of Fire, is the region with the most earthquakes and volcanoes in the world.

So when Mexican architect Augusto H. Álvarez was commissioned to design the famous Torre Latinoamericana, an emblem of the city that towers 182 meters above Mexico City, the possibility that an earthquake would bring it down was a reality. 

Not to mention other difficulties, such as the ground, since Mexico City was built on an islet of Lake Texcoco. So how to make what would be the tallest tower in Latin America - until then it was the Altino building in São Paulo - so flexible and light that it could withstand even the most terrible earthquake?

Álvarez took advice from the engineer and geologist Leonardo Zeevaert and the American engineer Nathan M. Neumark, who was one of the fathers of earthquake engineering, and they decided that this tower, which was inspired by the Empire State Building and the Chrysler in New York, should be made of glass and steel.

Popularly known as la Latino, they used such advanced seismic technology in the construction of the tower that it directly embraced the country's most ancient past. This is because they employed the same concept that the ancient Aztecs of Tenochtitlan used in their constructions, when the Aztecs added wooden piles under the Templo Mayor, as well as under other pyramids, to act as shock absorbers and dissipate the energy produced by earth tremors.

The unstable sandy subsoil on which the tower stands is pierced by more than three hundred concrete piles, Aztec-style, and the basements are completely hollow so that they act like the waterline of a ship and sway in rhythm with the ground. 

So well did they succeed that la Latino became the first skyscraper to be built in an extremely high seismic zone and survived the scourge of three earthquakes: a year after its inauguration, in 1957, the tower withstood an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale; in 1985, another one measuring 8.1; and the most recent one, in 2017, measuring 7.1. During the latter, the only thing that broke off the tower was a few panes of glass. 

A curiosity: la Latino is twinned with the Empire Building not only through its aesthetics but also its steel beams, manufactured by the same company McClintic-Marshall of Pittsburg (Pennsylvania) and like it served as a model for numerous skyscrapers in places of high activity such as Chile or Japan. 

Once the Moctezuma Zoo during pre-Columbian times and today one of the busiest areas of the city, the Latino unites the past with the present and rises like Babel to provide a bird's eye view of the city's urban, cultural and social diversity.

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