The skyscraper is a high-density, high-profit, high-powered urban tool. By stacking up more or less identical floor plans and connecting them to the same elevator core, skyscrapers can house vast numbers of commercial and civic activities – and these are easily exchanged or replaced with more profitable options. But no matter how much these towers might twist and turn, shine or drape themselves in different materials, the basic concept remains the same – repetition by stacking. Is this truly the best way for developers to turn a profit, for organizations to manifest their ambitions, or for a city and its people to develop a sense of pride? A lot of urban activities certainly do not adapt well to this modular floor plan. So, how can we create a dense and urban city core with the cultural, commercial, and civic diversity that most of us crave and appreciate? Is it time to unearth some forgotten historic templates? Are there any promising hybrid models left to be tried? Or do we need an entirely different, novel approach, like the elevator that once made the skyscraper concept possible?

Jägnefält Milton asks:

Is the skyscraper the ultimate high-density development or are we missing out on exciting alternatives?

BNKR Arquitectura answers:

The skyscraper may be the ultimate high-density development in areas where they are actually permitted. Historic city centers, however, where the maximum height of new developments is often restricted to that of nearby historic buildings, require new densification solutions. Take Mexico City’s historic city center, where federal and local laws prohibit construction beyond a certain height. At the same time, this area is in a desperate need of a comprehensive makeover; it needs new infrastructure as well as new office, retail, and living space, but has no available empty plots. Hundreds of thousands of square meters need to be developed, yet there is nowhere to put it all – so the only way is DOWN.

Why not build down

The district’s main square, the Zocalo, proved the perfect site for the Earthscraper: an inverted skyscraper that buries a colossal structure underground. Where preservation of the built environment is paramount, it becomes the more attractive option, preserving the iconic city square and existing surrounding structures. Designed as an inverted pyramid with a central void, it provides all habitable space with access to natural light and ventilation. To protect the many activities that take place on the square itself throughout the year (concerts, political events, open-air exhibitions, cultural gatherings, military parades …), the resulting massive hole is covered with a glass panel that creates a transparent gateway between Earthscraper living and everything that is happening on top.
Along these lines, the Earthscraper respects the colonial look of the historic city center, yet radically alters its actual nature, providing much-needed revitalization. It acknowledges the need for both empty space and densification, becoming an entirely new type of landmark building: invisible and monumental at the same time.

All photos, incl. the header image: BNKR Arquitectura