Link to article Torre Mayor represented a reinvestment in a declining area, making it a classic Reichmann project, says building director Gerald Ricker. Oct. 17, 2005. 07:30 AM Reaching for the top STUART LAIDLAW BUSINESS REPORTER MEXICO CITYâ€”The wide vistas offered by the latest Reichmann project give a glimpse of both the history and future of Mexico. "That's Chapultepec Castle," says Gerald (Rick) Ricker, looking out from the 32nd floor of Torre Mayor, the building he runs for Reichmann International along this city's grandest avenue. The castle, from 32 floors up, seems only a stone's throw away. Maximilian of Hapsburg built it when he ruled Mexico on behalf of the French in the 1860s. Maximilian also built the Paseo de la Reforma, a wide avenue running from the castle to the Zocalo, Mexico City's historic downtown, with the Champs-ElysÃ©es in Paris as his inspiration. To this day, an office on the Reforma denotes prestige in a country where prestige is virtually a tradable commodity. Along the Reforma, still the main street of both the city and the country, street signs offer directions to only two buildings: Chapultepec Castle and Torre Mayor, the tallest building in Latin America at 55 storeys. The Canadian-financed, 225-metre-high, $250 million (U.S.) tower presents two faces to the city â€” one stone, one glass; one strong, one fragile â€” much like the Mexican economy. The companies that inhabit Torre Mayor represent the strong industrial and investment base of the Mexican economy, while the street vendors and cleaners operating outside its doors represent the more fragile informal economy the OECD estimates employs more than half the workforce. Much like London's Canary Wharf â€” another Reichmann project â€” Torre Mayor has been credited with revitalizing a once important part of its host city that had fallen on hard times, into disrepair and out of fashion. For a generation businesses in Mexico were abandoning the downtown core, much as they had in major cities around the world. They chose to locate in new office complexes on the edge of town, far away from the crowded streets of the central city. Ricker can see those towers from his 32nd-floor vista, rising suddenly from the sea of low-rise buildings that make up most of the Mexico City landscape. Like most big centres, Ricker says, Mexico City is rediscovering its downtown. "Cities all around the world are putting the focus back on their central business districts, and Mexico is no different," he says. "People need a sense of place, and that's something Torre Mayor has helped to bring." The tower has already become a landmark in the city, acting as a reference point for cab drivers and visitors hoping to find their way through the notoriously busy and confusing streets. For those designing the building, its location on the Reforma and adjacent to Chapultepec Castle weighed on their minds as they worked to come up with a tower to restore prestige to the prominent location. "The street is incredible. It's fantastic," says architect Rob Eley with Toronto-based Zeidler Partnership Architects, principal architects of the building. Located at a bend in the Reforma, Eley and the other architects designed the building with a rounded front that allows it to curve with the road, enhancing the ease with which the building â€” a striking departure from the brick and concrete buildings of the area â€” fits into the landscape. "It makes the building a lot softer," says Eley of the curved glass facade. Giving the building two facades ensured a different view of the building from every angle, Eley says, helping it to stand out on the landscape even more than its towering height already ensures. From a distance, a keen eye can make out the faint image of overlapping diamonds behind the glass windows. These are part of the building's unique anti-earthquake design (see story at left), which uses dampers to absorb the shock of an earthquake. "It demonstrates that something is going on in the building," says Eley, who also worked on Toronto's Confederation Life headquarters and the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. The roots of the Torre Mayor project date back to 1992, when Paul Reichmann visited Mexico City in search of a new project. At the time, the country was debating its involvement in the North American Free Trade Agreement. Getting the project going took time as Reichmann's Olympia and York development firm fell into bankruptcy, and the 1994-95 peso collapse knocked Mexico in to crisis. Building Torre Mayor took on new importance. It would be part of the revitalization of not only Mexico City's grand avenue, but also of Paul Reichmann. He had sunk $25 million (U.S.) into buying up the buildings on his chosen site by 1994, even as his worries mounted. By the time construction began three years later, both Reichmann and Mexico were on the road to recovery from their mid-1990s troubles. Reichmann had considered many locations for the tower, but settled on an address along the Reforma, home to a rundown movie theatre and surrounded by a collection of squat, out of date and poorly maintained office buildings. It was a once-important part of the city â€” home to corporations and embassies â€” that seemed to have its best days behind it. But the Reforma, the central route of every major protest or celebration in the city, and the park around Chapultepec Castle was central to the consciousness of the country. "We had to get this right," Eley says, adding that all those involved knew they were working on a project with the potential to reawaken a vital part of the city and the country. Ricker says that putting a major building in a declining but once important part of town is the "hallmark" of a Reichmann project. Torre Mayor's revitalization of its neighbourhood began with a pre-construction phase, as dual pane glass was installed in neighbouring buildings to keep down the noise and dust pollution from the massive project. "We try to be good neighbours," Ricker says. The Reichmanns insisted workers building the tower take full safety precautions, such as wearing safety boots, helmets and gloves, something that was not common on Mexican construction sites. The tower was built with no fatalities, a rarity for this country. Complicating the construction, there was little storage space at the site, so contractors had to arrange just-in-time delivery even though trucks carrying materials had to navigate Mexico City's notoriously heavy traffic. The revitalization continues today in upgrades and even replacement of neighbouring buildings. Citibank and HSBC are building office towers a couple of blocks down the Reforma from Torre Mayor, while all along the street other landlords are renovating their buildings to meet the higher standards set by the Reichmann project. "We were the beginning of that," said Ricker, looking out over the Reforma from one of Torre Mayor's high floors. The Reichmanns themselves are getting in on the act, having bought neighbouring buildings with plans to tear them down to put in more parking for the 9,000 people working in its tower. "We'll be doing our own urban renewal," says Ricker. "The area really needed an upgrade."