Faced with local regulations banning skyscrapers, a Mexico City architect wants instead to build a 65-story pyramid at the center of Mexico’s religious and cultural hub.

And bury it.

The plaza today

Edwardo Suarez of the prestigious Mexico City architectural firm BNKR Arquitectura wants to burrow under the Mexican capital’s most famous square, the historic Zócalo — Mexico City’s Plaza de la Constitución — and highlight Mexico’s rich Aztec and Christian heritages with a 10-story underground museum, which would include new archeological discoveries unearthed in the excavation process. Then the 55 stories beneath the museum would be retail, office and even living space — ringed with garden terraces.

The Zócalo was built 500 years ago shortly after the Spanish conquest. After the destruction of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, Hernan Cortés destroyed the central pyramid where he witnessed scores of human sacrifices — in which prisoners of war were hauled to the top of the Templo Mayor and their living hearts were cut from their chests, their bodies tossed down the steps. Horrified, Cortés banned the practice, had the pyramid razed to the ground, with its stones paved today’s plaze and built a Catholic church which today is Mexico’s National Cathedral.

Around the Zócalo today, portions of the Templo Mayor have been restored. Facing the plaza is the National Palace — Mexico’s seat of government. For half a millenium, the Zócalo has been the site of the swearing in of viceroys and presidents, as well as the setting for

national proclamations, military parades and historic ceremonies. It is here that Mexico receives foreign heads of state — and where in times of discontent, crowds gather to protest.

The proposal is to dig out the center of the 188,976-square-foot Zócalo, and burrow down almost 1,000 feet.

“A team of Mexican architects have designed a 65-story glass and steel pyramid to sit in the middle of Mexico City’s most historic plaza. But, if it ever gets built, you won’t see it anywhere on the skyline,” reports CNN’s George Webster. “If built, the 65-story ‘Earthscraper’ would plunge 300 meters into the ground.”

A glass-covered, open atrium would bring in sunshine and fresh air — as would terraced gardens, called “earth lobbies.” says Suarez. The terraces would be filled with plants and trees to freshen the air.

“Earthscraper has become the architectural equivalent of a shot heard ’round the world,” writes Emily Gertz on the website Ecomagination. ”This conceptual design for a 65-story inverted pyramid underneath Mexico City now commands over a quarter-million stories in diverse publications around the globe.

“Why has the experimental skyscraper design, created for a 2009 “Skyscrapers of the Future” competition in the architecture magazine eVolo, attracted so much attention?” asks Gertz.

What the plaza would look like at night

“We were expecting to have some controversy,” says Emilio Barjau, Chief Design Officer and Design Director of BNKR Arquitectura, the Mexico City firm that created the concept. “But this recent boom is really amazing, it really surprised us. We were not expecting this to be all over news.”

Barjau thinks that Earthscraper may have burst the bounds

of the architectural world because it has taken a truly new approach to escalating megacity problems like planning for population growth, curbing sprawl, preserving open space, and conserving energy and water.

In the process, however, the concept also incorporates respect for the city’s past, by seeking to integrate the centuries of Mexico City’s history into its proposed solutions to present and future problems, rather than obliterate them.

A conceptual drawing of the proposed museum

Furthermore, it would be accessed directly from Mexico City’s underground subway system, preventing congestion above ground.

“It would turn the modern high-rise, quite literally, on its head,” notes CNN’s Webster.

“There is very little room for any more buildings in Mexico City,” explains Suarez, “and the law says we cannot go above eight stories, so the only way is down. This would be a practical way of conserving the built environment while creating much-needed new space for commerce and living.”

“But,” wonders Webster, ”would it really be that practical? The design, which would cost an estimated $800 million to build, is the shape of an inverted pyramid. Suarez says the first 10 stories would hold a museum dedicated to the city’s history and its artifacts. ”