Architect Ricardo Legorreta Vilchis was one of the best-known students of Luis Barragán, Mexico’s only Pritzker Prize-winning architect. While Legorreta’s works normally followed several of the characteristics of Barragán’s Tapatía School of Architecture (blocky volumes, minimalism, and bright colors), others such as the Celanese Building break from tradition but are still notable.
Designed in collaboration with Roberto Jean, and with a height of almost 55 meters (180 feet), the building was finished in 1968. The tower is known for its almost gravity-defying look, seemingly balancing on a cube that is much smaller than the rectangular glass structure above.
The building was originally the headquarters of Celanese Mexicana, the local offshoot of the Texas-based Celanese Corporation, a chemical manufacturer. When Celanese eventually moved their offices to another building, Mexico’s Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) took over the space. Edificio Celanese is still probably the name it’s most commonly known by, but some will also refer to it as Torre or Edificio SEMARNAT. The building’s current tenant is the Dirección General de Bachillerato (General Directorate of Baccalaureate), a unit of Mexico’s Public Education Secretariat. It seemingly does not have as catchy of a name, so Celanese and SEMARNAT are still the names used to refer to this tower.
While its outward appearance is its most striking aspect, Legorreta and Jean’s peculiar design has a functional purpose, as its centered support frees up much of the interior for an open-plan office space. This spacious organization of working space was highly in vogue and rather innovative by the late 1960s time of its completion. In the 2020s however, there have been reports that the building has fallen into disrepair.