on september 19th, 2017, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck mexico, being the most devastating in a generation. a seven-story office block in central mexico city, alvaro obregon 286, was the deadliest site where only the building’s stairwell remained standing as a witness of the original structure height. a few months after the tragedy, the mexican government hosted a public competition and mexican designer israel lopez balan proposed a new urban response.
a fortress of time to rethink urban development within the city fabric
the public competition for a memorial to be built on the site of alvaro obregon 286 sparked controversy among activist groups. they argued that the city government was focusing on ‘creating a physical space’ rather than conducting an investigation into what caused the building to collapse. the designer’s proposed memorial comes across as particularly outrageous, given the city’s recent history of questionable construction.
almost two years after the earthquake, the lot of deadliest site is still empty
lopez balan’s approach to the project was not to build on the site, but to preserve the nature where the urban constructions have failed. he proposes not to build, or at least ‘not with the typical sense of a memorial for collective catharsis or a new building for real estate speculation in the central city’.
the back stairwell remained standing as a witness of the disaster
the designer wishes to reconstruct the remaining back stairwell, as a gratitude symbol because it was the egress route that saved the lives of many people inside the building. he suggests to add a bell at the top of the structure that with its deep sound, evokes emotion and memories to inspire the community. the second element of the designer’s project entails an extensive circular wall where its only door is opened once a year, every september 19th, resulting in what lopez balan calls ‘a fortress of time’.
the proposal is a radical circular wall to avoid future tragedies
mexico city is built on a dry lakebed with soft soil made up of sand and clay, which amplifies the destruction that major earthquakes cause. as the city continues to pull water from acquifers below, its ground is sinking dramatically. thus, the designer attempts to return to nature what has always belonged to it: soil, rain, sun, wind and trees, which he thinks is a better way to reimagine urban development. lopez balan explains, ‘just for not building in that place the aquifer will gain 580,000 liters every year, and most importantly: it prevents future disasters in that place. a new urban consciousness.’
the footprints of the collapsed building are preserved, as well as reconstruction of the back stairwell
with this simple proposal, mexico city’s aquifer will gain 580,000 liters/yr.
against the traumatic sound of an earthquake alarm system, a bell at the top rings 19th day of each month stirring deep emotions and memories
time is released when the only door opens once a year (sept 19th) to contemplate how nature is preserved
‘not to build on this site, not with typical sense of catharsis or speculation’
mexico city is built on a dry lakebed which amplifies major earthquakes
architecture in mexico (240 articles)
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