Cesar Pelli, 1926–2019

He revitalized the architecture school as dean, and he designed a number of campus buildings.

Courtesy Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects

Courtesy Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects

Cesar Pelli, who died in July, was dean of the School of Architecture from 1977 to 1984. View full image

Cesar Pelli, an architect who changed skylines all over the world and helped shape Yale’s architecture school and campus, died on July 19 at his home in New Haven. He was 92.

A native of Argentina, Pelli came to the United States for a graduate degree at the University of Illinois in 1952. He then worked in the office of Eero Saarinen ’34BFA, moving to Connecticut in 1961 as project designer for Saarinen’s Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges at Yale. He established his own reputation as a designer in corporate firms in Los Angeles.

In 1977, Pelli was named dean of the Yale School of Architecture. “The place had never really recovered from the upheaval of the late ’60s,” says Robert A. M. Stern ’65MArch, who was later dean of the school himself. “Cesar energized the school. He had fabulous seminars on contemporary theory, and every important architect of that time was in the school and meeting with students.”

At the same time, Pelli’s high-profile position helped him win new commissions as an architect. From above a storefront on Chapel Street, the firm of Cesar Pelli & Associates—later Pelli Clarke Pelli—has designed skyscrapers, museums, college buildings, and other projects around the world, including the twin Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur (for several years the world’s tallest) and the World Financial Center in New York.

After stepping down as dean in 1984, he designed several buildings at Yale, including the Malone Engineering Center, the Golden Center for St. Thomas More, the Lanman Center addition to Payne Whitney Gymnasium, the Boyer Center for Molecular Medicine, and an addition to the Yale University Press building. His firm’s Yale Science Building is now nearing completion on Science Hill. 

Pelli was married until 2001 to fellow Argentinian Diana Balmori, a landscape architect who taught landscape architecture at Yale for many years. She died in 2016. Pelli is survived by two sons, Rafael ’78 and Denis, and two grandchildren.

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