A Most Exciting Vision: Cesar Pelli’s Book List

By Steve Kroeter February 7, 2012

Cesar Pelli

Architect Cesar Pelli: Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects (New Haven, Connecticut)

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Recognized for a lifetime of distinguished achievement in architecture—he is the recipient of more than 200 awards and prizes for his contributions to the field—Cesar Pelli has designed some of the contemporary world’s most famous buildings. His work, which encompasses academic buildings, research centers, libraries, performing arts complexes, museums, private residences, airports, and master plans, includes the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (1997), the globe’s tallest buildings until 2004; the World Financial Center (1981–88) in New York; and the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, CA (1975), whose third phase is to be completed in 2012.

Pelli, who was born and educated in Argentina, worked in the offices of Eero Saarinen on several key projects, including the TWA Terminal at JFK Airport, and later with Gruen Associates, before founding his own practice (Cesar Pelli & Associates, now Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects) in 1977. That same year he became Dean of the Yale University School of Architecture (a post he held through 1984).

For Designers & Books Pelli submitted a list of five books—two by Le Corbusier and one each by Robert Venturi, Julien Guadet, and Sigfried Giedion. His concise—and incisive—comments about the books point to his clear recollection of being an architecture student (see the comments on Eléments et théorie de l’architecture and Le Corbusier: Oeuvre Complète), his appreciation for “lucid and vigorous” critique (see his comment on Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture), and his interest in and regard for the new and the visionary (he praises Towards a New Architecture as “a most exciting vision for architecture”).

His 1999 book, Observations for Young Architects, an “architectural autobiography,” distills the wisdom and experience gained from many years as a practitioner and an educator. Currently out of print in the U.S. (a Spanish-language edition was reprinted in 2009 by Ediciones Infinito in Buenos Aires), it remains an insightful and thought-provoking assessment of the work that architects do and the uniqueness and core characteristics of the architectural profession (although our view is that the book should not be considered solely as of interest and relevance to young architects). Among his ideas is that architecture is an endeavor that simultaneously straddles both commercial and cultural considerations—it is both a profession and an art. He creates a framework for his analysis that involves eight principal “connections”: time, construction, place, purpose, culture, design process, constituency, and oneself.

Observations for Young Architects, 1999 (English, The Monacelli Press), 2009 (Spanish, Ediciones Infinito)

In the ten plus years since Observations was published, the profession and how it is practiced—and also the relationship between architects and society—have changed dramatically. Designers & Books asked Pelli if, given the chance to update or revise his book, what his response might be. His answer? “I would not add or subtract any of the ‘connections’ I wrote about in Observations for Young Architects. That book represents my thoughts at a moment in my life. I do not disagree with anything I said then, but today I would write a different book.”


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