The Torre Latinoamericana (Latin-American Tower) is a building in downtown Mexico City. Its central location, height (183 m) and history make it one of the city’s most important landmarks. It was the world’s first major skyscraper successfully built on highly active seismic land. From 1956 until 1984, it was the tallest building in Mexico City.
The Torre Latinoamericana was built as the headquarters of La Latinoamericana, Seguros, S.A., an insurance company founded on April 30, 1906. The building took its name from this company as its construction started during the post-war boom of the late 1940s that lasted until the early 1970s. At the time of its construction, the insurance company was controlled by the Mexican tycoon Miguel S. Macedo, who headed one of Mexico’s largest financial concerns of that time in this country.
The building features in a photograph by Mexican photographer Enrique Metinides when a suicidal woman climbed out on to the ledge of the 27th floor in 1993. A Red Cross worker managed to prevent her death.
The tower can be briefly seen from inside a helicopter during the beginning of Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet”. It’s also featured prominently in Alfonso Cuarón’s “Sólo con tu pareja”. As a fixture of the Mexico City skyline, the tower also appears in the opening scene of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Amores Perros”.
In 2006, the tower celebrated its 50th birthday. The ceremony included the reopening of the newly-remodelled 37th to 44th floors, a site museum, and a fully remodelled observation deck. The Torre Latinoamericana is also a member of the World Federation of Great Towers.
Plans for the tower include a facelift, which will redo the building’s exteriors using new materials while maintaining the original design and look; since the tower is considered a historical monument, its exterior look cannot be altered.
The project was designed and executed by Dr Leonardo Zeevaert and his brother Adolfo, Mexican civil engineers. Prior to the construction, they carried out a number of soil mechanics studies in the construction site, and designed the structure accordingly. Today this is a common and even mandatory practice, but at the time it was quite a novelty.
While it was being built, detractors said that there was no way a building of that size could withstand one of Mexico City’s earthquakes. It was indeed the very first really tall skyscraper built in a very active seismic zone. It was also the first one built with a fully aluminium and glass (both clear and cobalt-coloured) façade.
The tower gained notoriety when it withstood the magnitude 7.9 1957 earthquake, thanks to its outstanding design and strength. This feat garnered it recognition in the form of the American Institute of Steel Construction Award of Merit for ‘the tallest building ever exposed to a huge seismic force’ (as is attested by plaques in the building’s lobby and observation deck).
However, an even greater test came, by far, with the magnitude 8.1 September 19, 1985 earthquake, which destroyed many buildings in Mexico City, especially the ones downtown, in the tower’s neighbourhood. The Torre Latinoamericana withstood this force without problems, and has thus become a symbol of safety in Mexico City. Today the tower is considered one of the safest buildings in the city despite its potentially dangerous location.
Many think this was the first Mexican skyscraper. However, skyscrapers may have first appeared in Mexico City between 1910 and 1935. The tallest of the time, the International Capital Building was completed in 1935. This building was surpassed by the Edificio Miguel E. Abed, which, in turn, was surpassed by the Torre Latinoamericana.