Standing Tall @ 92: Cesar Pelli

On the 19th of July 2019, the world of architecture lost a legendary figure in Cesar Pelli. However, the legend of the Petronas Towers will live forever standing tall like Pelli’s stature in the world of architecture. The Argentine-American architect breathed his last in his home in New Haven, Connecticut, USA.

Cesar Pelli was destined to become a legendary figure and achieve greatness with significant contributions for our human civilization. The legendary figure served humanity at large for an outstanding 7 successful decades from 1949 till his demise in 2019. His marvelous design creations are marveled all across the globe for its sheer creativity and beauty.

The Legendary Architect

One of the highly respected architectural figures in the world, Cesar Pelli’s demise was informed by the Senior Associate of Pelli Clark Pelli Architects Anibal Bellomio, “With much regret, we receive the sad news of the death of the great architect Cesar Pelli.” At the age of 92, Cesar Pelli passed away peacefully in his home leaving behind his rich legacy for the younger generation to get inspired with his iconic creations.

The news of his death brought a shock wave in Argentina’s top political echelons. Mauricio Macri, Argentina’s President tweeted, “Pelli’s legacy was a pride for all Argentines.” Argentina’s Tucuman province Governor Juan Manzur tweeted, “He was without doubt a creator and his legacy will endure forever in each of his works.”

Cesar’s Baby – The Red Building

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad paid rich tribute to Cesar Pelli in a tweet, “I am saddened to hear the passing of Mr. Cesar Pelli, the great architect, who designed the KLCC Twin Towers in Malaysia, my condolences to his family and friends.” All around the world, the architectural world mourned the sad demise of the remarkable and legendary architect.

Cesar Pelli will always be remembered for his magnificent design creations like the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the World Financial Center in Manhattan, the Crile Clinic Building in Cleveland, Herring Hall at Rice University in Houston, the Green Building at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, and the Wells Fargo Center in Minneapolis. These architectural marvels has not only stood the test of the time as iconic landmarks, but also has served the nations with great pride.

Pacific Design Center


On the 12th of October 1926, Victor Pelli Simonelli, a Civil Servant and a School Teacher named Teresa Suppa de Pelli were blessed with a baby boy in San Miguel de Tucumán, a small city in the northern part of Argentina. 23 years later, Cesar Pelli graduated in architecture from the Universidad Nacional de Tucumán. He designed a low-cost housing project soon after his graduation. This was the beginning of a legend, who would rule the world in the coming decades.

Cesar Pelli and Diana Balmori were close classmates at the Universidad Nacional de Tucumán. A year after their graduation, they both got married in the year 1950. Diana Balmori is an Urban Landscape Designer. In the year 1952, they both moved to pursue advance studies in architecture at the University of Illinois, School of Architecture at Urbana-Champaign.

The bright young couple was blessed with a baby boy in 1953. They named him Denis Pelli. Then Diana gave birth to another baby boy, whom they named Rafael Pelli. While the elder son pursued being a Professor of Psychology and Neural Science at New York University, the younger son followed in his father’s footsteps to become a reputed architect. In 1954, Cesar Pelli got his Masters degree of Science in Architecture from the University of Illinois.

The Smile of Success


Cesar and Diana Pelli never went back to Argentina after their Masters. They settled down in New Haven, Connecticut. They became American citizen in the year 1964. Cesar started his American journey by joining Finnish-American Eero Saarinen’s architectural and industrial designing firm after his Masters. Saarinen was famous for his neo-futuristic style design creations. The Washington Dulles International Airport, the TWA Flight Center in New York City and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri were some of Saarinen’s outstanding works.

For nearly a decade, Cesar Pelli learned a great deal from Eero Saarinen. He worked with Saarinen on the TWA Terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport, the Morse and Stiles Colleges at Yale University projects. In 1961, the architectural world lost the amazing architect Eero Saarinen, who succumbed to a brain tumour. Cesar’s next stop was Daniel, Mann, Johnson and Mendenhall, Los Angeles, as the Director of Design.

The Petronas Towers

From 1964 to 1968, Cesar worked with Daniel, Mann, Johnson and Mendenhall’s architectural firm. Simultaneously, Cesar was climbing up the ladder in his career. He joined, as a Partner for Design, Gruen Associates in Los Angeles in 1968. Cesar’s design creation of the COMSAT Research and Development Laboratories in Clarksburg, Maryland was well-received in America in the year 1969. This was the beginning of Cesar Pelli’s remarkable legacy.

1975 saw the emergence of Cesar Pelli’s first landmark building at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, California. Unleashing his creativity, Cesar marvelled the world with the United States Embassy in Tokyo, which was completed in 1975. Students of architecture at the UCLA were lucky enough to have learned from the legendary architect. Cesar Pelli used to teach at the UCLA.

Cesar Pelli had stated in one his interviews, “I believe it’s a mistake to have a style. We architects, today work in too many different places, too many different uses. We need to be more responsive to what we do. We need to strengthen the quality of a place and not weaken it. If you do your own thing, you are weakening the quality of the place where you build.” Being responsive was Cesar Pelli’s great character as an architect.

National Museum of Art

In the year 1977, Cesar established his architectural firm Cesar Pelli & Associates with Fred W. Clarke as the co-founder. Simultaneously, he also served the Dean of the Yale School of Architecture in New Haven, Connecticut for 7 long years. After joining Yale, he was commissioned to design the expansion and renovation of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The Museum of Modern Art Residential Tower and the Museum’s expansion and renovation projects were completed in 1984.  

Cesar’s firm completed the World Financial Center in New York, in 1988. The highlight of the project was the huge public space of the Winter Garden. Pelli’s design creations went onto became landmark for more than four decades. The reward followed soon as the AIA – American Institute of America name Cesar Pelli as one of the ‘Ten Most Influential American Architects’. The Argentine became a renowned worldwide.

Salesforce Tower, San Francisco

The University of Minnesota Duluth awarded Cesar Pelli an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree in 2004. He had earlier designed the Weber Music Hall at the University. In 2005, the Connecticut Architecture Foundation’s Distinguished Leadership Award was awarded to Cesar Pelli. The visionary architect always loved to create his own style by experimenting using a variety of new materials.

The 90s saw Cesar Pelli going global in an outstanding manner. In 1991, One Canada Square at Canary Wharf in London opened to a great reception. 1995 saw the NTT Headquarters in Tokyo. The world became vary that everything Cesar Pelli designed became spectacular creations. 1997, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur created an awe all over the world.

Night View of The Twin Towers

The Twin Towers sheathed in stainless steel and reflecting Islamic design motifs was named the ‘Tallest Buildings in the World’. From 1997 to 2004, Cesar Pelli’s creation ruled the world as the ‘Tallest Buildings in the World’. He was rewarded with the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture for the ‘Petronas Towers’. 2005 saw Cesar Pelli & Associates completing the National Museum of Art in Osaka, Japan.

The legendary architect was also very kind and humble to reward his Senior Principal Fred W. Clarke and son Rafael Pelli for the immense popularity of his architectural firm. In 2005, Cesar Pelli & Associates became Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. The advent of the Second Millennium saw Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects completing some of the most prominent projects worldwide. The Minneapolis Central Library, the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall and Samueli Theater in Costa Mesa – California, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami – Florida, the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco and the Red Building, Sevilla Tower in Seville – Spain projects became landmarks.

Never Say Goodbye Mr. Cesar Pelli

Cesar Pelli is one legend, who will live forever for his superb design creations around the world. In 2008, Cesar Pelli was honoured with the Lynn S. Beedle Lifetime Achievement Award from the CTBUH – Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

Image Courtesy: Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *