Yale School of Architecture Dean Reflects On Cesar Pelli’s Life And Legacy | Connecticut Public Radio

Yale School of Architecture Dean Reflects On Cesar Pelli’s Life And Legacy

Jul 26, 2019

Renowned Architect Cesar Pelli died last Friday at the age of 92. For Deborah Berke, Dean of the Yale School of Architecture, Pelli’s influence on the school and its faculty will be long lasting.

“I can't say enough what an extraordinarily lovely and generous human being Cesar Pelli was,” said Berke. “He cared about scholarship, he cared about students, and he cared passionately about architecture. He was an exceptional human.”

Berke said over the years Pelli was an invaluable mentor to her and other young architects. While Pelli's own work was big and stylistically modernist, on campus he was open to other perspectives.

“As an educator, he was really interested in what one might call a pedagogic pluralism,” said Berke. “He enjoyed discussions with people who are interested in different ways of making buildings, in different styles associated with architecture.”

Pelli taught architecture at Yale for decades. Berke said he was skilled at giving students both information and wisdom.

“Not just data, not just facts like ‘here’s how you build a building’, but also here’s how you are in the world as an architect” said Berke. “It’s almost a spiritual thing. He was able to convey that with a warmth that made it possible for students to listen to him and learn from him.”

Pelli is perhaps best known for his skyscrapers - like the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, or San Francisco's Salesforce tower. Berke said Pelli had an uncanny knack for designing tall buildings.

“Sometimes new buildings try too hard to be different as though that would be their sole accomplishment. Cesar didn't shape his buildings that way. He thought about the profile, the silhouette that they would add to the skyline, and he was a master at that.”

Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Towers were the tallest buildings in the world from 1998 -2004. The towers were designed by Cesar Pelli.
Credit Simon_sees / creative commons

Pelli came to the U.S from Argentina in the 1950's. He spent a decade working alongside famed architect Eero Saarinen. Then in 1977, Pelli was named dean of the Yale School of Architecture.

In 1984, Pelli got his first big commission, an expansion of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. That commission forced Pelli to open up his own firm in New Haven. As his worldwide fame grew, he could have moved his work to a larger city like New York. Instead, he chose to keep his office and home in New Haven.

“I think he found a welcoming warmth and embrace in the smaller size city that worked for him personally,” said Berke.

Pelli died at his home in New Haven last Friday. He was 92 years old.