The reconstruction of Mexico - Part 1

On September 19, 2017, the earth shook in Mexico City. Not for the first time on exactly this day - and again with devastating consequences for the population and buildings. There are reasons for this.

The megalopolis Mexico City stands on a dry lake. 500 years ago, the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, which for strategic reasons stood in the middle of Lake Texcoco, was conquered by the Spaniards under Hernán Cortés. In the conquest, the Spaniards destroyed not only most of the advanced urban structure but also the elaborate system of canals, dams and bridges. For centuries, they drained the surrounding lake and canals in order to expand the city. Today, a large part of Mexico's capital stands on layers of sand and clay. The muddy subsoil today leads on the one hand to the constant sacking of numerous buildings and on the other hand intensifies the seismic movements during an earthquake. In this context, the metaphor of the American geophysicist John Bellini is often quoted, who said that the subsoil under Mexico City reacts like jell-o in a bowl during earthquakes.

An earthquake in 1985 permanently changed Mexico City. The numbers of deaths and collapsed buildings are still unknown. It is estimated that over 10,000 people died and around 800 buildings collapsed. The government was completely overwhelmed. The traumatized people no longer trusted the city and its buildings and moved to the safe outskirts. Car traffic increased visibly as a result. To mark the 32nd anniversary of the devastating earthquake, the annual siren test of the Mexican earth quake alarm system SASMEX sounded on 19 September 2017 at 10 a.m. in Mexico City. As every year, the city's residents and employees used the test to calculate the time they need to escape from the building and, if necessary, plan to adjust their behavior in the event of an emergency. Three hours later the siren sounded again. Twenty seconds later, the earth trembled in Mexico City. The destruction in the city was less severe than three decades before due to stricter building regulations after 1985.

About 230 people lost their lives in Mexico City and about 200 buildings were seriously damaged. Among the collapsed buildings were also recently completed. The corrupt builders of these buildings now are responsible for the loss of human lifes. As it had been 32 years before, the government was completely overwhelmed and again it was the civilian population that ran onto the streets to help. The villages, on the other hand, were cut off from the rest of civilization for a long time and only received help very late. To this day, it is the rural areas that suffer most from the devastation of the earthquake.

Two years after the severe earthquake, the Mexican architecture magazine Arquine, which is published both in English and Spanish, published the issue «missing pieces» and gives an insight into the reconstruction projects throughout Mexico. Various views of the post-earthquake period are summarized, including political voices.


The Mexican tour operator "The Travelling Beetle" is offering a tour on the subject of earthquakes in Mexico City. This theme, which at first seems unusual, covers many of the current problems in Mexico City and also shows how reconstruction is dealt with in architecture.


This text was published on werk, bauen + wohnen.

© LEARNING FROM MEXICO 2019 by Laure Nashed

 Die Beiträge von «learningfrommexico» entstehen in Zusammenarbeit mit der Schweizer Architekturzeitschrift werk, bauen + wohnen.