Bicentennial tower monument delayed in Mexico

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A monument planned to tower over Mexico City’s marquee avenue in celebration of the country’s 200 years of independence from Spain will not be completed in time for lavish celebrations next month, the federal government said.

The Public Education Ministry, which is organizing Mexico’s bicentennial events, announced last week that the 341-foot-tall ‘Estela de Luz’ (or ‘Trail of Light’) tower has faced setbacks and will not be inaugurated until late 2011.


In February, President Felipe Calderon presided over groundbreaking at the monument’s planned site near the main entrance to Chapultepec Park, right along elegant Paseo de la Reforma (links in Spanish). ‘It should be ready for September 2010,’ Calderon said during his remarks at the ceremony.

But now, Education Secretary Alonso Lujambio says the ‘Estela de Luz’ won’t be ready by Sept. 16, Independence Day, when this year Paseo de la Reforma will be transformed into a parade route with stages and massive screens that are to extend all the way to the central Zocalo square. Costs for the construction have also swelled from an original estimate of 393 million pesos to 690 million pesos, or about $50 million.

‘The federal government will not irresponsibly rush the construction of this singular work of art and engineering,’ Lujambio said.

Complicating matters, a planned Bicentennial Plaza at the foot of the tower has not acquired the necessary permits for construction from the Federal District (the capital city’s government), or the approval of the citizen council for Chapultepec Park, according to a June report in the daily Reforma. Members of the same citizens’ group helped stall and eventually defeat a plan in 2007 to build a Rem Koolhaas-designed skyscraper at another site nearby, although no such protest movement has formed around the ‘Estela de Luz.’

The design, chosen after an open competition, is headed by architect Cesar Perez Becerril. Standing at a planned height of 104 meters -- the double of 52, a complete cycle in Mesoamerican calendars -- the monument’s quartz sides are designed to be translucent and reflective, as described in the architect’s statement. ‘Along with quetzal feathers, gold, and turquoise, quartz was one of the most prized materials in ancient Mexico,’ Perez wrote.

Additionally, the monument is set to have an open basement with engraved messages in Spanish and in 62 indigenous languages still spoken in Mexico, the design statement says.

Perez did not immediately respond to requests for further comment on the design or on the construction setbacks. A spokesman at the Public Education Ministry confirmed the delays to La Plaza on Monday.

Mexico’s Public Education Ministry is the third federal agency to handle the organizing of Mexico’s bicentennial since the celebration plans were announced. First, the office of the president headed the effort, which then passed it on to the Interior Ministry, which then passed the task to the Education Ministry.

In 2010 Mexico is celebrating 200 years since the start of the war of independence and 100 years since the start of the revolution.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City