César Pelli (1926 – 2019), founder of Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, is an Argentine American architect who has designed some of the world’s tallest buildings and other major urban landmarks.
César Pelli: from Argentina to Worldwide Success
Architect César Pelli has been responsible for some of the world’s most striking skyscrapers over his long career. Born in 1926, Pelli studied at the University of Tucuman, in his native Argentina, before beginning his career in the Michigan offices of Eero Saarinen. The architect then worked at the firms DMJM and Gruen Associates, before founding his own enterprise, Cesar Pelli & Associates (now Pelli Clarke Pelli). His designs are known for their scale and sensitivity to the surrounding landscape and include urban landmarks such as Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers (at one point the tallest buildings in the world), New York’s World Financial Center, and the colorful Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood. Over the next few years, his firm will complete buildings in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.
Pelli’s Successful Career Achievements
He first worked in the offices of Eero Saarinen serving as Project Designer for several buildings, including the TWA Terminal at JFK Airport in New York and Morse and Stiles Colleges at Yale University. After this apprenticeship, he was Director of Design at DMJM and, later, Partner for Design at Gruen Associates, both in Los Angeles. Throughout these years, he designed several award-winning projects, including the San Bernardino City Hall in San Bernardino, California; the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, California; and the United States Embassy in Tokyo, Japan.
In 1977, Pelli became Dean of the Yale University School of Architecture and also founded Cesar Pelli& Associates. He then resigned his post as Dean in 1984 but continues to lecture on architecture. Among other significant projects during this period are the Crile Clinic Building in Cleveland, Ohio; Herring Hall at Rice University in Houston, Texas; the Green Building at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, California; and the construction of the Wells Fargo Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1989. In 2005, in recognition of the increased role of the firm’s principals, the firm was renamed Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects.
Pelli’s Style and Work Ethic
César Pelli has always avoided formalistic preconceptions in his designs. In fact, he firmly believes that buildings should be responsible citizens and that the aesthetic qualities of a building should grow from the specific characteristics of each project such as its location, its construction technology, and its purpose. In search of the most appropriate response to each project, his designs have covered a wide range of solutions and materials.
Pelli’s Most Important Buildings
As a prolific architect, César Pelli has designed many noteworthy buildings in the span of his four-decade career. Some of his most notable contributions include the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur and the Pacific Design Center, West Hollywood, California.
Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Completed in 1997, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, held the title of world’s tallest buildings until 2004. The architecture takes its inspiration from Malaysian crafts and materials and Islamic design motifs. The twin 88-story towers, connected by a two-story sky bridge at the 41st and 42nd floors, rise from a mixed-use base of cultural, commercial, and public spaces set in a large park in the center of the city. In 2004, Pelli was awarded the Aga Khan Award for Architecture for the design of the two skyscrapers.
Pacific Design Center, West Hollywood, California
Pelli worked on Los Angeles’s Pacific Design Center for more than 40 years, from the design of the first building, known as the Blue Whale, in the 1970s to the completion of the Red Building in 2012. The campus, which also includes the 1988 Green Building, is spread over 14 acres in West Hollywood.
The PDC houses the West Coast’s top decorating and furniture market, with showrooms, public and private spaces, a branch of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and two restaurants. The Center has 100 showrooms which display and sell 2,200 interior product lines to professional interior designers, architects, facility managers, decorators, and dealers.
The Pacific Design Center hosts many screenings, exhibitions, lectures, meetings, special events and receptions for the design, entertainment and arts communities. The annual Elton John AIDS Foundation Academy Award Party has traditionally been held at the PDC. The party is one of the longest running and best known of the post-Oscar parties as well as being a multimillion-dollar fundraiser for the foundation.
A Career Starred with Awards
Over his career, Pelli has received twelve Honorary Degrees, over 200 awards for design excellence and is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the National Academy of Design, the International Academy of Architecture, and of L’Academie d’Architecture de France.
The American Institute of Architects also named him one of the ten most influential living American architects in 1991 and awarded him the AIA Gold Medal in 1995. In 2008, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat presented him with The Lynn S. Beedle Lifetime Achievement Award.