2019 has been a year that’s encompassed the passing of too many distinguished architects—creative talents of a very high caliber: Stanley Tigerman, I. M. Pei, Kevin Roche, Alessandro Mendini—and, if we’re broadening the list to a wider scope of design, we’d include Florence Knoll and Karl Lagerfeld.
Thus it is with great sadness that we note the passing of a towering figure in the profession:
César Pelli, 1926-2019.
Across a half-century career, Pelli’s work ranged from housing to corporate headquarters, from educational to performing arts facilities, and from shopping spaces to civic buildings—and these works were spread worldwide, from Oklahoma to Japan. He could shock us into awareness of new possibilities for design—his Pacific Design Center, opening in 1975, was an eye-opening example—or work at the limits of structural daring. But he is is probably most well-known for his towers, many of which achieved a sculptural elegance and formal subtlety which is not often found in such titanic constructions. Moreover, he sustained that striving for architectonic grace to the end of his prolific career—his Salesforce Tower in San Francisco (which just opened last year) being a late example of his achievement.
We don’t know to what extent Pelli and Rudolph interacted. They both ended-up settling in New York, and—this being, at least professionally, a “small town”—no doubt encountered each other from time-to-time. They were both selected to be members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and they both participated in the famous (or infamous) 1982 architecture conference at the University of Virginia—the one memorialized in the book “The Charlottesville Tapes”.
There are further intruding connections: Pelli was dean of Yale’s School of Architecture, arriving a dozen years after Rudolph’s departure from the school’s chairmanship (and serving from 1977 to 1984).
We take this moment, in a year of other profound losses, to mark the life and achievements of this fine designer, César Pelli.