World-renowned architect Cesar Pelli dies at age 92

By Sommer Brokaw
Cesar Pelli, a world-renowned architect who lived in the United States and was born in Argentina, died at age 92. Photo by Casa Rosada/Argentina Presidency of the Nation
Cesar Pelli, a world-renowned architect who lived in the United States and was born in Argentina, died at age 92. Photo by Casa Rosada/Argentina Presidency of the Nation

July 20 (UPI) -- Cesar Pelli, an architect known for some of the most famous skyscrapers, including the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, has died. He was 92.

Cesar Pelli died Friday at his home in New Haven, Conn., The Washington Post reported.


Rafael Pelli, his son, confirmed the death but did not provide a specific cause, the newspaper said.

Cesar Pelli was known for skyscrapers he designed around the world, including the dual 1,483-foot Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The towers set a record from 1998 to 2004 for the world's tallest skyscraper, beating Chicago's Sears Tower, now called the Willis Tower, by about 30 feet.

His other projects include the 60-story Bank of America corporate headquarters in Charlotte (1992), the 68-story Cheung Kong Center in Hong Kong (1999) and the 72-story Landmark in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, finished in 2013.


Cesar Pelli was born in Tucuman in northern Argentina on Oct. 12, 1926, but would begin his architecture career in the United States.

He first studied building design at the University of Tucuman where he graduated in 1949 with an architecture degree. Three years later, he emigrated with his wife, Diana Balmori, a Spanish-born woman who would become a landscape architect, to the United States. In the United States, he received his master's degree in architecture from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Cesar Pelli began his career as an apprentice for famed architect Eero Saarinen at his office, Saarinen and Associates' of Bloomfield Hills, Mich. He assisted him with the iconic TWA terminal at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, then known as the Idlewild Airport, which drew admiration in the 1960s for its flowing space-age lines as a symbol of U.S. progress and future innovation.

Cesar Pelli said Saarinen's focus on lean and unified exteriors influenced his design.

He stayed with the company for three years after Saarinen's death in 1961. He became a U.S. citizen in 1964 and moved to Los Angeles to become a design director for Daniel, Mann, Johnson, and Mendendhall.


He became a partner at the Los Angeles firm, where he was a trailblazer in new methods of glass-cladding in the mid-1960s to reflect the skyline.

"Glass is fragile as the wings of a butterfly," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1990. "It's alternatively opaque and transparent, ephemeral and light-sensitive, reflecting the changes of the sky color and tone."

In particular, Cesar Pelli and Anthony Lumsden of DMJM in 1966, designed the Federal Aviation Administration's West Coast headquarters in 1966 with mirrored glass to reflect the sky.

He later moved to a larger Los Angeles firm, Gruen Associates, and teamed up with Norma Merrick Skalarek to unveil a sleek and linear U.S. Embassy office building in Tokyo.

In 1977, Cesar Pelli formed his own company in New Haven -- Cesar Pelli and Associates -- and was elected as Yale School of Architecture dean, a post he held for seven years.

Among his honors was his election in 1982 to be an American Academy of Arts and Letters member, and being awarded the prestigious Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects in 1995.

"There is nothing quite so pleasurable for me as to visit my buildings when they are finished and occupied," Cesar Pelli wrote in a 1988 essay. "It's like being part of a miracle taking place. Months and even years of caring and dreaming become a reality."


His wife died in 2016.

Along with Rafael Pelli, survivors include son, Denis Pelli, a brother and two granddaughters.

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