Appreciating César Pelli
César Pelli, FAIA RIBA JIA, a force in modernist architecture who is known for designing some of the world’s most recognizable architectural landmarks, passed away July 19 in his home in New Haven, Connecticut, at the age of 92.
Among the vast body of works Pelli brought to the world, he was most recognized as architect of some of the world’s tallest buildings, including the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the World Financial Center in New York, and the recently completed Salesforce Tower in San Francisco. In Hong Kong, Pelli left his mark with the International Finance Centre (2004) – a centerpiece that defines Hong Kong’s skyline with elegance. His other works in the city include Cheung Kong Center (1999) and 18 King Wah Road (2018).
Accolades received by Pelli over the years include the AIA Gold Medal in 1995 and the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2004, among others. Under Pelli’s leadership, his firm received the AIA Firm Award in 1989 and, in 1991, he was selected by AIA as one of the 10 most influential living American architects. In March 2005, the AIA Hong Kong Chapter was honored to have Pelli share an evening with us to present his work.
In addition to his practice, Pelli was a devoted educator. He served as Dean of the Yale University School of Architecture, from 1977 to 1984, and remained involved with the School following his tenure. His book, Observations for Young Architects (Monacelli Press, 1999), is a testimony of his commitment to share his experience and thoughts on architecture with future generations.
Pelli both designed iconic buildings and built a vibrant practice that exemplifies his values. Those values and the practice continue to this day under the direction of an esteemed group of designers, many of whom collaborated with Pelli for more than thirty years on projects around the world. His emphasis on humanity is reflected in his stated philosophy on architecture and the built environment:
“Whenever one has the opportunity to accommodate and strengthen the forces that bring people together in the city, that interests me very much. Those qualities are at the heart of what makes our built environment good or bad, and they are more important than a building’s aesthetics.”
– César Pelli
The Argentine-born American architect will be remembered by his friends and colleagues as a people person with great charisma. His legacy will continue in the great buildings he created, and through the generations of architects who are indebted to his mentorship and friendship.