Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa

Steven UllmannHailed as one of the ten most influential living American architects by the American Institute of Architects, Cesar Pelli’s stunning work has transformed the world’s great cities and skylines. Miami is a recent recipient of Pelli’s genius—the new Carnival Center for the Performing Arts, designed by his firm, has reshaped the city’s landscape and energized its cultural scene. His remarkable designs can be seen worldwide, gracing museums, major public spaces, airports, laboratories, performing arts centers, academic buildings, hotels, and office and residential towers. For his extraordinary contributions to architecture, for his innovations in design, and for his venerable role in educating the next generation of world-class architects, Cesar Pelli is receiving the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, from the University of Miami.

Pelli was born in Argentina where he earned a Diploma in Architecture from the University of Tucumán. He immigrated to the United States in 1952 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1964. With driving ambition and a passion for his chosen field, Pelli pursued a master’s degree in architecture at the University of Illinois School of Architecture at Champaign-Urbana on a scholarship from the Institute of International Education.

He first worked in the offices of renowned architect Eero Saarinen, serving as project designer for several buildings, including the TWA Terminal at JFK Airport in New York and Morse and Stiles Colleges at Yale University. After this apprenticeship, he was director of design at DMJM and, later, partner for design at Gruen Associates, both in Los Angeles. Throughout these years, he designed award-winning projects such as California’s San Bernardino City Hall, the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, and the United States Embassy in Tokyo, Japan.

In 1977 Pelli was tapped as dean of the Yale University School of Architecture, where he made significant contributions to the teaching of his craft. That same year, he founded Cesar Pelli & Associates, known today as Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, based in New Haven, Connecticut. While he resigned his post as dean in 1984, Pelli continues to lecture on architecture throughout the country and around the world.

Known for his extensive use of curved facades and metallic elements, Pelli has avoided formalistic preconceptions in his designs. He believes that buildings should be responsible citizens and that the aesthetic qualities of a building should grow from the specific characteristics of each project such as its location, its construction technology, and its purpose. In search of the most appropriate response to each project, his designs are aesthetically pleasing works that have covered a wide range of solutions and materials.

The grandest example of his architectural prowess can be found in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where the striking Petronas Twin Towers office complex looms a majestic 1,483 feet over the city. Displaying elements of Islamic art in their design, the 88-story Petronas Twin Towers were the world’s loftiest structures from 1998 to 2004. Pelli’s exquisite architectural renderings can be admired around the globe, from New York to London to Tokyo. Many of his designs have received critical acclaim, including the four-building World Financial Center complex in downtown Manhattan, best known as the surrounding buildings around the now-fallen World Trade Center.

Pelli has written extensively on architectural issues. In 1999 he wrote Observations for Young Architects, as a distillation of his thoughts on a profession he loves. His work has been widely published and exhibited, with nine books and several issues of professional journals dedicated to his designs and theories.

The recipient of 11 honorary degrees and more than 150 awards for design excellence, Pelli is a fellow of the American Institute of Architects and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the National Academy of Design, the International Academy of Architecture, and l’Academie d’Architecture de France. In 1995 the American Institute of Architects awarded Pelli the Gold Medal, in recognition of a lifetime of distinguished achievement in architecture. In 2004 Pelli received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture for the design of the Petronas Towers.

Today we pay tribute to Cesar Pelli, one of the brightest luminaries in architecture’s firmament, for his inspirational artistry, for masterfully created structures of dramatic beauty, and for his life’s work that will have a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture.