The Paseo de la Reforma is today a boulevard of high-rises, a broad axis of asphalt and traffic leading from one corner of the Alameda Central, the historic urban garden close to the origin of Aztec and subsequent Spanish Imperial power, past international hotels and corporate offices to decant into the verdant expanse of Chapultepec Park where museums, a zoo and the presidential residence, Los Pinos, are interspersed amid the foliage. It is at this crucial point of decantation, this threshold between commercial construction and ludic nature, that BBVA Bancomer has now erected one of the tallest towers in Latin America.
This is a tower that due to its height, its pivotal placement in the city, its client resources, and its architects’ reputations will inevitably be scrutinized for symbolic power, interpreted as a statement of contemporary thinking in workplace design, urbanization, and corporate iconicity. The building’s formal inauguration in February was marked by the participation of President Peña Nieto and a lavish firework display visible from all cardinal points of the Mexican capital. It’s totemic, this tower, both for the economy of the nation and for what one might term the cosmopolitanization of its construction industry.
The Legorreta® practice is one of the most successful in modern Mexico, one that, since Ricardo Legorreta’s vividly pigmented Camino Real hotel, completed for the 1968 Olympics on a site not far from BBVA Bancomer, has realized a broad range of residential and institutional projects both at home and abroad. Richard Rogers, on the other hand, is associated, together with his London-based practice, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, with advanced technology and bravura structure as well as an articulate concern for democratic well-being in the global city. The two architecs, it seems, were friends of long standing.
Ricardo Legorreta died in 2011. His practice, formerly known as Legorreta + Legorreta and now as Legorreta®, is today run by his son, Victor, along with four other partners. Indebted to the more intimate work of Luis Barragán, the Legorreta contribution to Mexican modernism is characterized by earth-bound enclosure and monolithic planes of brilliant color. Rogers’ architecture can also of course be colorful, as with the seminal Centre Pompidou built with Renzo Piano in Paris in the 1970s; his palette is however less bound to tradition and more enamored of both industrial processes and pop aesthetics. This British hi-tech approach is eminently suitable for high-rise architecture.
Here at BBVA Bancomer, the progeny of two A-list practices, it is tempting to guess which firm is responsible for which component or aspect of the completed building. Could it be that the architecture is in fact an equitable synthesis? Certainly the choice of moniker - LegoRogers - to brand this collaborative work on the dramatic tower overlooking Chapultepec Park indicates a genial sense of humor.
As with previous buildings by the Rogers team, the structure of BBVA Bancomer is revealed to public view and expressed as an ornament of technical daring, here crowned by a rooftop helipad. As Mexico City is prone to severe earthquakes, the stability of this and other new high-rises is an obvious design priority. Thus the six “mega columns” on the tower’s exterior to transfer seismic forces. Organized as two triangular sets of three columns each, this primary structure (there are also some modest interior columns) establishes the typical floor plan as twin triangular plates separated by a rectilinear service block. The resulting open office space enjoys literally panoramic views of the city and the park.
Directly off Reforma and the edge of Chapultepec Park, the glazed entrance lobby with its polished stone floor is suggestive of Legorreta’s work at the Camino Real and subsequent luxury hotels. Less public than, for instance, the base of Rogers’ new Leadenhall Building in the City of London (THE PLAN 080), it is a luminous space three stories high. This dimension establishes in fact the scale and measurement of the tower. Office floors above are stacked in similar three-story units, a strategy signaled on the exterior by the diagonal steel bracing in each module and by triple-height loggias that occasionally punctuate each façade.
These loggias occur at three module intervals and are thus shared by nine floors of office space each. They alternate from façade to façade: two facing the park, two facing the historic core, and one directly above the entrance. Each is coded by a single primary color, the soffits visible from far below, and each acts as an elevated communal garden complete with an industrial-looking spiral staircase. This evokes the element of surprise in Legorreta’s gardens. One easily imagine such “gardens in the sky” in LegoRogers’ mind, bringing nature deep into these sleek financial premises. The inverted “V”s of the structure are in turn screened by a blueish-purple diaphanous veil coordinated in a diamond pattern to match the “V” bracing and with modified opacity to suit the relative need for solar protection.
The diagonal is a theme activating BBVA Bancomer. As well as the “V”s and the protective screens in elevation, the service core is diagonal in plan. Where this core meets the corner above Reforma, boxed windows (a classic Legorreta motif) protrude containing meeting rooms high above the metropolitan scene. To the rear, a supplementary service core is attached as a hi-tech pod. It is aligned with a pavilion containing parking and, on its twelfth floor, a glorious triple-height canteen. This space enjoys a tailored structure of twelve orange steel columns with capitals tapering upwards, as inverted pyramids, to slots of natural light - a homage perhaps to the structural ingenuity of architect/engineer Félix Candela in 1950s Mexico.
On Reforma, the third structure in the LegoRogers assemblage is an oblong capsule housing automobile ramps and sided in aluminum. The topmost level, accessed from the tower, houses an auditorium with another vivid interior and natural illumination. Albeit prone to earthquakes, Mexico City is blessed with a mild climate. When pollution abates, the air can even have a bright mountainous character. Is it churlish to query the inclusion of almost three thousand car parking spaces? Hopefully, many of these lucky bankers will be minded to bike to work (over 200 bicycle slots are provided) or take public transport to BBVA Bancomer, a distinguished tower already certified LEED Gold and already part of the patrimony of the Mexican capital.