Text by Thomas de Monchaux
Does it sound like faint praise to say that the greatest skyscraper of 1970 has just been built where the Paseo de la Reforma meets Chapultepec Park in Mexico City? It shouldn’t. The remarkable rigor and restraint of the 50-story, 848,196-square-foot BBVA Bancomer Tower—an unusual collaboration between two established firms, London-based Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSH+P) and Mexico City–based Legorreta + Legorreta—serves as a tart corrective to the rendering-driven formalism and gratuitous gimmickry that passes for big thinking in today’s ever-more-dense, ever-more-tall, ever-more-populous cities.
The look of this new headquarters building for Mexico’s largest financial institution isn’t a result of any self-conscious historicism, but is instead a “so-new-it’s-old” or “so-old-it’s-new” throwback to a peak moment, about a half-century ago. That’s when the global profession of architecture had (with the not-incidental influence of Richard Rogers, Hon. FAIA, and his High-Tech peers) fully assimilated the robust formal lessons—and conceptual ambitions—of the Brutalists, Metabolists, and other late-midcentury moderns, but had yet to bury the associated engineering breakthroughs inside the pseudo-Neoclassical or expressionist stylistic detours that followed. Instead, as RSH+P project architect and associate partner James Leathem says with a prosaically inadvertent poetry typical of this new building itself: “It is what it is and that’s all there is to it.”
What it is, visibly, is a building of components and extrusions. Engineered for earthquakes, the structure is distributed between a perimeter steel-truss system that features stacked and slab-strained inverted-V-shaped “megaframes” with brace nodes that, toward the building’s top, can oscillate some 5 feet to release seismic load. Several ferroconcrete service and elevator cores cross the tower’s square plan along a 45-degree traverse. At the double-height, double-width 12th-floor “sky-lobby”—which extends atop an adjacent parking structure and features a cafeteria and auditorium, along with the primary security bottleneck—joints and junctions are designed to be able to move a few feet in any direction if the earth shakes, with surfaces overlapped to laterally shift, as Leathem says, “like a gangplank on a ship’s deck.”
The sky-lobby is reached by glass-walled outboard elevators that daintily recall their more dramatic antecedents on Rogers’ 1986 Lloyds of London office tower, here arrayed along the tower’s chamfered corner facing Reforma. In a bustle-like annex, the necessary helical curves of the car ramps up those same 12 levels at the base add a rounded sculptural element—a timelessly modern maneuver of exploiting functional necessities for formal fun, here enhanced by a vaguely Corbusian roofscape decked out in apricot orange.
The chevron pattern of the perimeter megaframes is elaborated by what the designers, in a nod to vernacular sunshade precedents, call celosias: steel diagrid lattices of mulberry-tinted shading blades, which in turn support aluminum screens that are calibrated to allow uninterrupted views for those seated at desks inside, while filtering out glare and heat gain from all that 24-degree-north-latitude daylight (and contributing to the project’s LEED Gold rating). The megaframes also meant, Leathem says, that “we could scoop out outdoor sky terraces behind the structure, bringing the feeling of the park up into the building.”
The five triple-height excisions, trapezoidal in plan, span the tower’s full width, and serve, in theory, as informal social condensers for associated “neighborhoods” of corporate divisions. Harry Bertoia patio chairs and George Nelson tables add a touch of California ease. Those administrative neighborhoods are expressed somewhat more insistently in six boxy extrusions at the tower’s park-facing corner, each containing conference rooms with panoramic views. The striking colors—yellow, blue, red, orange—with which the sky gardens are lined, “are not whimsical,” Leathem says: at the urban scale, they break up the tower’s volume, and at the human scale, extending to interior furnishings and wayfinding, they contribute to a sense of place within the larger complex.
The colorful sky gardens recall Rogers’ 2005 design for Madrid’s Barajas International Airport, with its rainbow-hued spectrum of structural steel felicitously color-coding its gates. But they also strongly evoke—along with the building’s primal mediation between the orthogonal and the oblique, the massive and the perforated, and the volumetric and the planar—the enduring interests of the late Ricardo Legoretta, once a protégé of the original modernist colorist, Luis Barragán.
It’s a surprising convergence between the legacies of the earthy Ricardo and the steely Richard. “We were slightly concerned about how the collaboration might work out at the start, coming from different design cultures and backgrounds,” Leathem concedes. But eventually, “it worked well. One of the things that made it work was the megaframe, which was a clear organizing idea. Once we all got to that framework, we could plug pieces into the system. So we’d build on that.”
The High-Tech cohort has had mixed fortunes since its height in the last decades of the last century: Foster + Partners’ latent classicism has become increasingly explicit; Renzo Piano Building Workshop’s failures at New York City’s Whitney Museum and Fort Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum cast a shadow on its late work; London-based practices Hopkins Architects and Grimshaw Architects have each developed deeper, yet sometimes narrower, practices. But the BBVA Bancomer tower in Mexico City suggests that some old dogs may yet have new tricks.
The success of the “LegoRogers” collaboration makes a case for fewer brand-burnishing signature moves and for more collective intelligence. Despite the fact that these days, an office tower for a big bank is not an especially soul-stirring venture, there may be something critical, even gently radical, in the building’s candid curiosity about the relationship of function to form, material to structure, landmark to landscape, environment to event.
“We weren’t trying to make it look like anything, not even like something from NASA,” Leathem says, acknowledging the Space Age vehicles that have surely, since Rogers’ own Zip-Up House proposal of 1967, inspired the firm’s aesthetic. “Everything serves a purpose.” The result is a building with an expressed economy of means—a good look for a bank—that is austere without being severe. Poignantly, and almost polemically, its tallest point is an extrusion of its humblest service core: a concrete tube at the back corner that accommodates an express elevator and plumbing pods, extruded further up for access to a rooftop helipad. “On the original scheme we had some spires,” Leathem says. But, fittingly, “we took them off, because they didn’t do anything.”
Project: BBVA Bancomer, Mexico City
Client: BBVA Bancomer
Architect: LegoRogers (a collaboration between Legorreta + Legorreta, Mexico City, and Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, London) . Ricardo Legorreta, Víctor Legorreta, Miguel Almaraz, Adriana Ciklik, Carlos Vargas, Miguel Alatriste, Víctor Figueroa, Mariana Gómez, Lourdes del Val, José Luis Barrera, Gerardo Martínez, José Luis Corona, Óscar Islas, Guillermo Mateos, Alejandro Ramírez, Francisco Espinosa, Oswaldo Anaya, Fredy López, Joel Rojas, Emmanuel Pérez, Andrés Martínez-Lanz, Gerardo González-Alfaro, Luis Samuel Corona, and Fernanda Argüello (Legoretta + Legorreta project team); Richard Rogers, Hon. FAIA, Graham Stirk, Ivan Harbour, Mike Davies, Lennart Grut, Andrew Morris, Richard Paul, Ian Birtles, Simon Smithson, Tracy Meller, John McElgunn, Stephen Barrett, Andrew Tyley, Stephen Light, James Leathem, Georgina Robledo, Mark Darbon, Mark Gorton, Douglas Paul, Dennis Austin, Matt Cooper, Benjamin Darras, Michael Hughes, Dirk Krolikowski, Leonardo Pelleriti, Barbara Perez, James Stopps, Simon Tonks, and Alex Zimmerman (Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners project team)
Interior Design: LegoRogers; Skidmore Owings & Merril
Landscape Design: Espacios Verdes
Structural Engineer: Arup; Colinas de Buen
Public Health Installations: Garza Maldonado y Asociados
Air Conditioning/Thermal Analysis Façade Consultant: DYPRO
Security/Smoke Detection: LOGEN
Acoustics/Multimedia: Saad Acústica
Signage: Rommy Serrano
Parking Consultant: Walker Parking Consultants
Geotechnical Engineer: Ingeniería Experimental
Heliport Consultant: ATG Airports
Traffic Impact Consultant: ITT
Planning and Environmental Consultant: Asesoría Urbana
Catering Consultant: Grupo Lux
LEED Consultant: HKS
Fire/Transportation Consultant: Arup
Electrical Consultant: DEC
Wind Tunnel Study: RWDI Consulting Engineers & Scientists
Consultant Codes and Regulations: Luis Rosales
Size: 188,777 square meters (2.03 million square feet); 78,800 square meters (848,196 square feet) (office)
Project DescriptionFROM THE ARCHITECTS:
The President of Mexico officially opens a new headquarters building designed by LegoRogers for BBVA Bancomer in Mexico City.
The President of Mexico, Enrique Pella Nieto, has officially opened a new urban landmark on the skyline of Mexico City- BBVA Bancomer's new headquarters today. The 50-storey office tower is the first completed building by LegoRogers, a collaboration between international architectural practice Rogers Stirk Harbour+ Partners and Mexican firm Legorreta + Legorreta. The architecture brings together both practice's different architectural languages yet common values to create a building that is both contextual and distinctive.
Located on the Paseo de Ia Reforma, the tower marks a gateway to Chapultepec Park with sky gardens overlooking the city and the park. The architecture aims to promote a sense of community and interaction between staff. On the ground floor, the triple-height lobby sits on the corner of Paseo de Ia Reforrna, which links the daily operations of the bank branch with executive-level commercial businesses at higher levels. In the lobby, glass elevators face the park and will transport visitors arriving by foot, as well as the employees up to the sky lobby at level12. The sky lobby is a window to the city and the park. This area will be used for exhibitions and public events and connects the hall and dining room with terraces overlooking Chapultepec Park. At this level security manages visitor access to the building.
The VIPs and executives access the building through a separate lobby on the ground floor, with a dedicated access area for vehicles to guarantee a high level of security and privacy. The executive elevator offers direct access to the top executive floors and discreet access to public floors of the building, including the heliport. The building's main structure is externally expressed to provide flexibility in planning internal office spaces. The external braced frame provides the seismic structural system to the building allowing the core to be arranged diagonally organising office space on two sides. The result moves away from the traditional centre core, four sided floor layout and responds to the spectacular views towards the city and Chapultepec Park.
Sky gardens every nine floors create outdoor space within the tower and provide meeting and break-out areas where people can enjoy spectacular views of the city. The facade design is inspired by the Mexican traditions and architectural heritage. The geometry of the diagonal structure is used to create a lattice frame to protect the facade from direct light and heat from the sun. As a result, the building has been awarded a Gold LEED energy standard.
The tower provides 78,800m2 of prime office space for BBVA Bancomer and can accommodate 4,500 members of staff.