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 Discipline: Architecture

Design Defined


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


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.



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.



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.



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.



 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


Luxner News Inc.

Scot Forge

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:

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

Carolina Eyzaguirre
Zeidler Partnership Arhictects, Elise Hodson, Michael Prokopow
Mexico City, MEXICO
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