Pelli was born and educated in Argentina, where he earned a Diploma in Architecture from the University of Tucumán, and later worked for several major architectural firms—including serving as Project Designer on Eero Saarinen’s TWA Terminal at JFK Airport in New York (recently re-opened as the TWA Hotel)—before founding his own firm, César Pelli & Associates (now Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects), in New Haven, Connecticut in 1977. That same year, when he was 50 years old, he was named Dean of the Yale University School of Architecture, a position he held until 1984.
Known for his innovative work with glass and use of bold color, Pelli was the recipient of hundreds of awards, including the American Institute of Architects’ Gold Medal in 1995. His most distinctive buildings include the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, which were constructed in 1997 and until 2004 were the tallest buildings in the world; the slender Carnegie Hall Tower in New York, designed in 1991 to mimic the landmarked music hall at its base; and the tapered, 1,070-foot Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, which was constructed in 2018 and is the tallest building in San Francisco, towering over the landmark 853-foot Transamerica Pyramid.
One of Pelli’s most notable projects is the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, a trio of buildings he would design for the 14-acre complex, beginning in 1975 while he worked for LA-based Gruen Associates and completed almost 40 years later. The initial building, a massive 750,000-square-foot structure that Pelli covered in bright blue glass, was nicknamed the “Blue Whale.” The second more vertical building was designed in green glass and the third, completed in 2014, comprised two curved buildings in ruby red glass. At its debut, Pelli told Interior Design of the red glass, “It’s a fantastic color. I am delighted.” And of the blue-green-red palette overall he added, “They’re artistic choices. Nothing more profound.”