A Monumental Task
Famous Sculptures Cut and Removed from Olympic Trail
The construction of an elevated toll highway in Mexico City required the removal of ten large reinforced concrete sculptures, measuring between 7 and 22 meters tall (23 and 72 feet), from the roadside of an existing highway. The sculptures were over 40 years old and had become synonymous with the city, so a solution was needed to remove and relocate them without impacting their structural integrity.
The ten sculptures were part of a larger collection of 22 designed by several artists from five continents. They were installed in 1968 as Mexico City prepared to host the 19th Modern Olympic Games. This was the first time the international event had been held in a Latin American country. The 22 sculptures were positioned along an 11-mile stretch of road named “La Ruta de la Amistad” (Friendship Road) that led to the Estadio Olímpico Universitario (University City Stadium), the official Olympic stadium for the games.
During the decades that followed, however, the novelty of the sculptures began to wear off and some had fallen into disrepair. It was in the 1990s that the Board of the “Ruta de la Amistad” was formed, with the aim of maintaining and improving the road through the involvement of private initiatives. Some of the sculptures have since been restored, but in 2012 it was deemed necessary to relocate ten of them so that a new elevated toll highway could be built.
Cutting the reinforced concrete structures with diamond tools provided low levels of noise and eliminated vibration, so CSDA member ADRA Ingenieria, S.A. de C.V. (ADRA) of Leon, Mexico, was contracted by Cav Diseño e Ingenieria S.A. se C.V. to remove three of them. The specialty contractor would remove “Señales” (Signs) by Mexican artist Ángela Gurría, “El Ancla” (The Anchor) by Willi Gutmann of Switzerland and “Las Tres Gracias” (The Three Graces) by Czech artist Miloslav Chlupac.
The contractor was responsible for creating openings in each structure to review its composition, engineering and installing steel support frames to house the structures during removal and transport and executing a series of planned cuts to free each one from the ground. Due to the job being located on a major route around Mexico City, work had to be performed at night or when highway construction crews scheduled lane closures during the day.
Construction of the new highway was progressing fast, so ADRA had to mobilize quickly. As well as being supervised by the general contractor, the cutting team would be working under the watchful eyes of the international media. The Ruta de la Amistad sculptures were included on the World Monuments Fund’s 2012 Watch List, so each step of their safe removal and restoration was being documented. Formed in 1965, the World Monuments Fund is the leading independent organization dedicated to saving the world’s most treasured places. The organization provided funding to restore three of the 22 sculptures last year.
These works of art were constructed decades earlier and any mechanical data about them could not be found. In lieu of any blueprints for the sculptures, the cutting contractor had to create openings to figure out what type of reinforcement had been used, where it was located and what type of aggregate was utilized. It was also important to determine if they had been constructed using one or multiple support structures. The results of these inspections would also help in choosing the right type of vehicle to transport the sculptures when they were cut free and secured in steel frames, as their exact weights were unknown.
First, the team from ADRA set up a work area at the location of Las Tres Gracias. The sculpture consisted of three 15-meter (42-foot) tall columns, two pink and one purple in color, with some undulating edges. Operators used a K 1250 gas powered hand saw and other cut and break tools from Husqvarna to create a 30- by 30-centimeter (11.8- by 11.8-inch) opening in the concrete to inspect the structure. It was then discovered that the columns were hollow and the walls were only 8 centimeters (3.1 inches) thick, with a steel support running through each one to maintain structural integrity. This also turned out to be the case for the other sculptures.
Custom steel frames were engineered and installed around each column before cutting commenced. The contractor was able to set up one wire saw cut at the base of each column to penetrate the concrete surface and separate the steel support structure from the ground. A Husqvarna CS 2512 wire saw with a 15-meter (42.2-foot) length of 40-bead diamond wire was used to make the three cuts, each taking 4 hours to complete. Wedges were periodically installed in the cut line to avoid the wire getting stuck.
Señales stood 18 meters tall (59 feet) and was the closest of the 22 sculptures to the Estadio Olímpico Universitario. Two horn-like structures, one black and one white, stood parallel to each other approximately 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) apart. This was the most complicated sculpture to move because of the shape of the two pieces. The base of each horn was 3 meters (9.8 feet) wide by 18 meters (59 feet) long but reduced to 60 centimeters (2 feet) by 1.2 meters (3.9 feet) in size at the top. It was deemed too risky to remove and transport them in their entirety because of potential breaks, so they were each cut into three 6-meter-tall (19.7 feet) pieces to be rejoined later.
Scaffolding was set up against the steel frames and the top section of each horn was removed using hand saws, taking two operators three hours to cut. The process was repeated for the two middle sections before a Hilti TS5 track-mounted wall saw was used to make vertical cuts on the larger, bottom sections that remained. These cuts were necessary to introduce a metal joint and help secure the sections during transport. This last set of cuts took operators 10 hours to complete.
La Ancla proved to be the easiest of the three sculptures to remove. The team from ADRA dug out the ground surrounding the artwork and found that it was supported by four bars of steel rebar, which were cut using cutting torches. Just like the other sculptures, La Ancla was placed in a steel support structure and transported to a new location.
These three sculptures were removed over three weekends, with cutting teams working from 11:00 PM to 5:00 AM each night in line with road closures. Cut sections were rigged and placed on lowboy trailers by crane, then transported to a temporary restoration area nearby. As anticipated, the use of diamond tools provided clean cuts and minimal damage to the sculptures, allowing swifter repairs and relocations. The sculptures are now located close to the Aztec Stadium—the city’s main venue for soccer that is a few short miles from La Ruta de la Amistad.
“The complexity and conditions made this a very challenging job. The dimensions of each sculpture was different, so we needed to use several tools to complete our tasks. I am pleased that ADRA has helped to preserve these sculptures so they may be enjoyed by future generations,” said Raul Bracamontes, owner of ADRA.
ADRA Ingenieria, S.A. de C.V. began operations in 2005 and has been a CSDA member for six years. ADRA is based in Leon Guanajuato, Mexico, and services all of the country. The company specializes in all elements of wire sawing, wall sawing, flat sawing and core drilling.
Hayward Baker Geotechnical Construction
Sawing and Drilling Contractor:
ADRA Ingenieria, S.A. de C.V.
Leon Guanajuato, Mexico
Phone: 52-47 7212 2797
Methods Used: Wall Sawing, Wire Sawing