In Memoriam

Cesar Pelli: Renowned global architect helped build Yale school’s identity

Cesar Pelli
Cesar Pelli

Cesar Pelli, former dean of the Yale School of Architecture (1977-1984) and leading global architect of the late-20th century, died on July 19 at the age of 92.

Pelli was the architect of some of the world’s tallest buildings, including the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur and the World Financial Center in New York. Other influential buildings by Pelli include United States Embassy in Japan, the Pacific Design Center, the expansion of Washington National Airport, the Goldman Sachs Tower in New Jersey, the Torre de Cristal in Madrid, and countless others. His design work is characterized by a high-tech yet contextually sensitive approach.

As dean, Pelli emphasized pedagogical pluralism as well as the School of Architecture’s reputation as a thought leader in the profession of architecture. He revitalized Perspecta, the oldest student-edited architecture journal in the country, reinstating the influential publication after several years of hiatus. He also founded new programs oriented toward external audiences; these included Retrospecta, an annual yearbook of student work and school events, as well as an architectural exhibitions program in what was then one of the largest architecture galleries in the world. Pelli also personally redesigned the shield of the school, devising the emblem still in use today. His contributions as dean were crucial in building the identity of the school as a center for design and discourse.

Following his tenure as dean, Pelli stayed involved with the school, continuing his support of Perspecta as a member of the Perspecta Board and supporting student scholarships. This year, Pelli endowed a professorship in landscape architecture in honor of his late wife, Diana Balmori, the influential landscape designer and educator who passed away in 2016. The search for the inaugural Diana Balmori Professor in Landscape Architecture is open.

Cesar Pelli was a wonderful man, a gifted architect, and an inspired academic leader,” says School of Architecture Dean Deborah Burke. “I think of him as all those things, but also as a gracious mentor and generous friend. I will be forever grateful for his support and guidance, first when I was a young faculty member and later when I became dean. Having Pelli Clarke Pelli in New Haven is and has been important for the School of Architecture, and we are grateful for all the opportunities they have provided for YSoA alums. Most recently, Cesar’s personal generosity to the School will allow us to expand our faculty in a significant way. Cesar was a treasure, in every sense of the word, and he will be greatly missed.”

I was very fortunate to work with Cesar throughout my career. He was my teacher, mentor, boss, and most importantly, a friend,” says Associate Dean Phil Bernstein. “Under his guidance I learned the special responsibilities that came of his conviction that ‘architects must produce what is asked of us,’ a concept that is the foundation of my understanding of our profession and at the heart of my teaching at Yale today. Cesar’s legacy lives on not just in the great buildings he created, but also the generations of architects who were his students and collaborators and who carry forward his ethos in the classroom, design studio, and construction site.”

Dean Pelli established the Cesar Pelli Scholarship Fund, which provides financial assistance to Yale architecture students, at the School of Architecture in 2005. Remembrances can be sent to arch.info@yale.edu and will be shared on the school’s website.

A memorial service for Cesar Pelli will take place at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 22 in Battell Chapel, corner of Elm and College streets.

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