Collapsed building after earthquake – Photo: Valente Rosas/EL UNIVERSAL

Corruption in the foundations

Alejandra Canchola
Mexico City
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Engineers and architects share their insights on the construction regulation of Mexico City, and on the collapse of the buildings

The construction regulation of Mexico City is known worldwide for being one of the most thorough in seismic design and standards for building structures; however, corruption and individual interests of politicians and investors have caused the non-compliance of these standards.

Engineers and architects from all over the world visit Mexico to consult experts on this regulation and learn from the technology developed in our country since 1987, the year when the first construction regulation was issued, back then when the capital of the country was still known as the Federal District.

For the engineer Jesús Mendívil, president of the National College of Architect Engineers of Mexico, the thoroughness and severity of the regulation is one of the causes of corruption, seeing that a more considerable investment is required to meet the standards.

“The more complex the design of a building, the more levels, the more land, closer to where the lake used to be, the more consents needed from the project supervisors, the more money [a project] will cost. We, ourselves, have thought this excessive regulation fosters corruption,” he said.

According to Isaura López, architect from the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM), no further regulations or regulation committees are needed, it's just a matter of the professional ethics of the construction industry; of the project supervisors – who need to constantly supervise the works – and the investors – who should prioritize the safety of the people who will inhabit the building and not the amount of money they can save from a budget.

“We still haven't understood that this city's population is increasing and saturating to the point the infrastructure will no longer meet the demand, and this is due to a lack of urban analysis, of urban policies and planning, of economic interests and, as we know, corruption,” she claimed.

Mendívil further states that the ultimate responsibility doesn't fall on the project directors or project experts, but also on the owners, who in order to invest the least amount of resources possible, set aside the safety of the people.

Carlos Mercado, architect of the Faculty of Superior Studies of Aragón, explained that Mexico needs quality in construction.

“If this were done as they are supposed to be done, we'd see the results. The buildings which collapsed were built over 50 years ago; they were very old and don't meet the regulations implemented after 1985; the buildings built after this date have responded well to seismic activity,” he added.

Since the 1985 earthquake, construction experts and structural engineers worked on different solutions and received training overseas to issue the first regulation in 1987, which was reprinted in its entirety in 2004.

Ms. López emphasized that the construction regulation is based on the safety and security codes of California and Japan, and uses the criteria of the American Concrete Institute and the American Institute of Steel Construction, whose standards are rigorous on seismic safety.

Isaura López, who is one of the professors who organized the survey teams to review structural damages, reassured that the state of the buildings isn't as serious as the worry of the people over the conditions of their properties.



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