Architect behind Petronas Towers, Cesar Pelli, dies

Mr Cesar Pelli's many celebrated works include the Petronas Towers (top) in Kuala Lumpur. His firm was also responsible for the architectural design concept of Ocean Financial Centre (left) in Singapore. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ST FILE
Above: Mr Cesar Pelli's many celebrated works include the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. His firm was also responsible for the architectural design concept of Ocean Financial Centre in Singapore. PHOTO: ST FILE
Mr Cesar Pelli's many celebrated works include the Petronas Towers (top) in Kuala Lumpur. His firm was also responsible for the architectural design concept of Ocean Financial Centre (left) in Singapore. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ST FILE
Mr Cesar Pelli's many celebrated works include the Petronas Towers (above) in Kuala Lumpur. His firm was also responsible for the architectural design concept of Ocean Financial Centre in Singapore. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BUENOS AIRES • Mr Cesar Pelli, a force in modernist architecture who crafted bold landmarks such as the crayon-bright Pacific Design Centre in California, and the Petronas Towers, a twin-spire skyscraper in Malaysia that was briefly the world's tallest structure, died on Friday at his home in New Haven, Connecticut.

He was 92.

His son Rafael Pelli, a partner in his father's New Haven-based firm Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, confirmed the death.

Mr Pelli, born in Argentina, received some of his profession's highest awards, was dean of the Yale School of Architecture and kept a creative pace that often placed him on lists of the most influential architects into the 21st century.

His projects spanned a broad sweep of form and function: stately commercial headquarters, angular arts centres, a terraced-glass addition to New York's Museum of Modern Art, and the sun-drenched north terminal at Washington's Reagan National Airport.

His firm was also responsible for the architectural design concept of Yale-NUS College and Ocean Financial Centre in Singapore.

But a unifying chord - and perhaps his greatest contribution to the architectural canon - was what he called his attempts to keep a building's "soul" and "skin" in harmony with its surroundings by using selected materials, styles and details.

Mr Pelli's Art Deco-inspired Wells Fargo Tower blends with the granite-and-brick cityscape of downtown Minneapolis. And his Adrienne Arsht Centre for the Performing Arts is a ziggurat of aqua-tinged light and jagged angles intended to capture the Miami sun and symbolise the unpredictable flourish of creativity.

"We should not judge a building by how beautiful it is in isolation, but instead by how much better or worse that particular place... has become by its addition," Mr Pelli told Architectural Digest in 1988.

 AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ST FILE
Mr Cesar Pelli's many celebrated works include the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. His firm was also responsible for the architectural design concept of Ocean Financial Centre (above) in Singapore. PHOTO: ST FILE

Some, however, believe Mr Pelli sometimes fell short of that credo.

When Mr Pelli's firm cut the ribbon for the 50-storey One Canada Square tower in London's Canary Wharf in 1991, some British architecture critics cringed at the stainless steel skyscraper, then London's tallest at 236m, as grossly out of place.

Prince Charles bluntly told Mr Pelli: "I personally would go mad if I had to work in a place like that."

Yesterday, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad expressed his condolences.

"I am sad to hear the news of the passing of the great architect who designed the Twin Towers in Malaysia, Mr Cesar Pelli of Argentina. He was in New York when he came here to design this iconic building in Malaysia," he said.

Mr Pelli was born on Oct 12, 1926, in San Miguel de Tucuman, north-western Argentina. His parents - his father was a civil servant and his mother was a teacher - amassed a sizeable library that included illustrated volumes on art, which Mr Pelli pored over in his youth.

Mr Pelli and his wife Diana, who died in 2016, had two children: Rafael and Denis Pelli, a professor at New York University.

WASHINGTON POST, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 21, 2019, with the headline 'Architect behind Petronas Towers, Cesar Pelli, dies'. Print Edition | Subscribe