PELLI, Cesar

(1926- )
   Born in the mountainous northern Argentine city of San Miguel de Tucumán, Cesar Pelli first studied architecture at the university in Tucumán and then at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. His first architectural position was in the firm of Eero Saarinen in New Haven, Connecticut; he assisted in the construction of Saarinen's Trans World Airport Terminal, built at JFK Airport in New York (1956-1962). This building reveals Saarinen's expressive architectural style, which Pelli later modified in his own urban skyscrapers.
   Pelli received some of his first important commissions while dean of the School of Architecture at Yale University in 1977-1984. During this time, he built the World Financial Center that surrounded the World Trade Center in New York City. Through the 1980s, Pelli experimented with the creation of a more expressive design for his skyscrapers, first modeling them on Art Deco skyscrapers such as the Empire State Building, as seen in his Wells Fargo Center, built in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1986-1988. Both buildings feature a stepped format along the shaft, resulting in a summit narrower than the base of the building. He used this recessed crown also in his 60-story Bank of America Corporate Headquarters, built in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1990, but here the sides of the building bulge out slightly, creating a less linear and more expressive overall design.
   Pelli's characteristic curved façades, glass and metal designs, and great attention to the external lighting of the building created a dramatically luminous silhouette, which is best seen in his most famous structure, the Petronas Twin Towers built in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1998. Briefly considered the world's tallest buildings, the Petronas Towers remain the world's tallest twin towers. Although the twin towers of the World Trade Center consisted of 110 stories while the Petronas Towers have 88 stories of office space, the Petronas Towers include a mall and various other areas of entertainment on the ground floor, creating a vast space at street level. Made from reinforced concrete, steel, and glass, these towers bulge, curve, become narrower, and almost end in a pinnacle, thus recalling the minaret in Islamic architecture. Because steel is expensive in Malaysia, Pelli used more concrete in his design than is found in most skyscrapers built outside of Asia. For this reason, the towers are extremely heavy and are therefore set very deeply into a foundation of bedrock. Linking the two towers is a two-story skywalk at the 41st floor, which provides an additional safety exit as well as a unique design to the towers. Interestingly, a different construction company was hired for each tower and a competition was set up between them that today can be used as a comparative case study of cost and construction issues. Cesar Pelli, best known for his skyscrapers, remains important today in his transformation of the urban landscape to include such expressive and structurally superior monuments of Post-Modernism and High-Tech architecture.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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