Starchitect Spotlight: César Pelli

We’re mapping the work of the masterminds—some famed, some lesser-known—whose works have shaped the L.A. cityscape. This week, the Argentinian transplant who brought big color to WeHo

Pelli1César Pelli (1926-)
Firm: Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects
Style: Late Modern

César Pelli moved from his native Argentina to the States in 1952 to earn his Master’s at the University of Illinois School of Architecture at Urbana-Champaign. He became a U.S. citizen in 1964. Before long, he made his way to Los Angeles, working first as director of design at DMJM and then as a partner for design at Gruen Associates. In 1977 he left L.A. to become dean of the School of Architecture at Yale (okay, we get it), and he established his own firm that same year.

Pelli pioneered the use of mirrored glass skins as building exteriors; his design for the Federal Aviation Administration West Coast Headquarters in Hawthorne incorporated the technique and was among the first of its kind. He is also known for matching his buildings to the cultural vibe of the locations where he builds them. Of his Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa he told the LA times, “What is important is that this building is very elegant and also very relaxed. Full of dynamism, energy, faith in the future — all good qualities of Orange County.”  The building’s rippling glass exterior is evocative of the Pacific Ocean.

In addition to visually ambitious projects like the Segerstrom Concert Hall or his tri-color Pacific Design Center in WeHo, Pelli has also designed buildings that are simply enormous. Think the World Financial Center in New York, Petronas Towers in Malaysia—the tallest buildings in the world at the time of their construction—and L.A.’s 777 tower.

Pacific Design Center
Pacific Design Center

Photograph by Thomas Harlander

Pelli began work on the Pacific Design Center in the ’70s, completing the blue building in 1975 and the green building in 1988. The red building was finally finished in 2013, and tenants just started moving in this past March.

 777 Tower is downtown L.A.’s sixth tallest building—soon to be seventh when the Wilshire Grand is completed.

“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.” — César Pelli

Click the burgundy pins for images of César Pelli projects across the city. 
The other pins denote the work of architects from our Starchitect Spotlight archives. You can hide them in the dropdown menu on the left.