LBR&A - Torre Reforma

 On Mexico City’s famous avenue Paseo de la Reforma, 10 major buildings will be completed by 2015. Among them will reign Torre Reforma, the tallest building in all of Latin America at 57 stories and ranking as one of the world’s most iconic buildings.  

Designed by the architectural firm LBR&A, Torre Reforma’s construction began in 2009 and is on track to be finished by the beginning of 2015. The 244-meter-high skyscraper is unique in its design and construction as it defies traditional straight-lined, rectangular design to present an unusual shape in which the width of the building’s base is smaller than the width of its middle levels. Even more remarkable is that the whole structure is held up completely by its two exterior walls, without a single continuous column. 

L. Benjamin Romano, owner of LBR&A, emphatically describes the building as a work of circumstances rather than an artistic statement. “I didn’t design this project – it was designed by the structure’s needs, its regulations and determining factors,” he says. 

A Historic Challenge

From the beginning, one of the most prominent challenges was a historical mansion sitting on the lot of the future Torre Reforma. The Casa Rosada (Pink House) was built in 1929 as a family home, and is registered and protected under the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA). When LBR&A was invited to view the property, Benjamin Romano came up with the idea that won his firm the project. The house would be moved to the side to install a large underground parking garage and then moved back to its original location where the high-rise would be built around it. 

“The house didn’t bother me,” Benjamin Romano notes. “It was the opposite – instead of being a problem, I turned it into an opportunity.” Led by architect Dr. Robert Meli, the experts at ALE Heavy Lift, VAMISA and Bovis Lend Lease constructed a concrete platform – designed by Benjamin Romano – under the house’s original foundation and raised it onto a concrete waffle slab. Hydraulic jacks were placed underneath to move the home 18 meters north for six weeks while the underground parking slurry walls were cast in place and then move it back to its original spot to initiate the excavation under the house.  

This “tray” – as Benjamin Romano calls it – not only provided the means to move the house, it provided a new concrete base to strengthen its foundation. “That tray saved the life of the house’s old foundation,” he notes. “In the old days, the house was set on a stone foundation atop humid land because that was the area where Mexico’s old lake once was. Today, the same stone cements the same house, but the stone is sustained on a firm concrete tray.”

Casa Rosada will be a functional, yet beautiful, part of the Torre Forma complex, serving as a social gathering place with a cafeteria and bookstore. Its walls form an L shape across from the inverted L shape of the high-rise to create an open square in the middle. 

Under Construction

Before the home was returned, excavation and construction of the basement levels were performed in a top-down approach. Loaded walls were installed 60 meters deep to provide support for the building and accommodate the regulated minimum amount of parking spaces on the limited-sized lot of 2,788 square meters. Merely 40 meters from one extreme to another, and 600 square meters already dedicated to the historical home, meant there was nowhere to go but down for the parking spaces. The nine underground levels will provide 1,000 parking spots.

“There were many challenges,” Benjamin Romano admits. “A high-rise building is a great challenge, one which we had never faced before. To resolve the flow, circulation and services of a tall building on such a small surface required much analysis work and gathering of professionals from different specialties, in addition to having a historical house as part of the project.” 

As the LBR&A lead architect says, surrounding circumstances designed the project. The small lot inspired a uniquely shaped building – its perimeter widest at the mid-level floors and smallest at the top and bottom to occupy less ground space. 

Surrounded by stunning sites such as the skyline, Paseo de la Reforma, Bosque de Chapultepec (the city’s largest park) and Castillo de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Castle), the architects didn’t want to squander the view, so they designed the skyscraper without columns. “The building is supported by the concrete 90 degree angle walls with an interior trapeze,” Benjamin Romano says. 

From the ground up, the walls were poured into a woven framework of beams and later covered with concrete or glass to form the three single tiles that are large enough to go from the floor to the top of the building. The structural and MEP design was entrusted to engineering firm Arup, which describes the mechanics as “sloping brace elements on the front wall [which] cantilever the building over the historical home.” 

Torre Reforma will be mostly office space, but will include an auditorium, a gym, a swimming pool and a small commercial area to meet the needs of the people who work there. On the 23rd floor, there will be a spacious sky lobby with a view of all the surrounding sites. 

During construction, the number of employees fluctuates between 100 and 300, of which 80 percent are local contractors. However, LBR&A also works with foreign and national companies. According to Benjamin Romano, once the firm has had a positive experience with a contractor it prefers to continue working with that one as long as the cost is economically viable. In the case of Torre Reforma, most of the important contractors are ones the firm has used before and trusts their quality of work and professionalism, but it is also giving a chance for new providers who are believed to be able to handle this project level.

Eco Tower

What would an impressive, newly constructed high-rise be if it didn’t include green innovations? Torre Reforma doesn’t disappoint in this area. The University of Pennsylvania’s TC Chan Center for Building Simulation and Energy Studies conducted sun and wind studies to optimize the design of the building. 

The green plans earned Torre Reforma a LEED Platinum pre-certification – the highest level of the Green Building Council. One of the most visible factors is the south side of the tower, which is flattened to face the sun. It is covered with photovoltaic panels to absorb solar energy and power the building. 

To qualify for LEED, a building should reduce its energy consumption by 14 percent with reference to the ASHRAE local standards. In order to receive the five points toward certification, Torre Reforma reduced it by 24 percent. The project also embraced the concept of zero discharge. One hundred percent of the water is treated by the building’s own water treatment plant, allowing all water to stay in the building. 

Torre Reforma’s eco-friendly innovations include:

•Water efficiency: Rain water and sewage water are treated and re-used for watering plants and flushing toilets. Zero sewage goes to the municipal sewage system.

•Energy savings: To qualify for LEED, a building must reduce energy consumption by 14 percent. Torre Reforma reduced 24 percent. 

•Reduction of carbon dioxide emissions: Naturally ventilated indoor gardens improve indoor air quality, offsetting CO2 emissions. 

•Green areas: On every fourth floor, slender trees in triple-height atriums with smaller plants add natural green without obstructing exterior views.   

•Energy-efficient lighting: The tower’s slimness will allow natural light to reach interior spaces. Common areas and indoor gardens will have LED lighting. 

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