- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 15, 2001

Architect Cesar Pelli, 75, head of Cesar Pelli & Associates, is associated with skyscrapers more than any other building type; in 1998, he created the twin Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the world's tallest structures.
Now the National Building Museum's exhibit "Cesar Pelli: Connections" gives visitors the chance to see, up close, his work in this genre.
The show of photographs, photomurals, more than 100 drawings, 30 models, 20-foot-tall hangings of his most significant work and some of Mr. Pelli's architectural renderings in watercolor provides an appropriate opportunity to examine the architect's 50-year career, especially his work with skyscrapers.
Indeed, models for two of his tallest buildings confront the visitor in the exhibit's first gallery. They are the thin, spirelike Miglin-Beitler Tower in Chicago (1988) and the International Finance Centre in Hong Kong (to be completed in 2002).
Mr. Pelli also designed, among others, the Museum of Modern Art tower in New York City (1977-1984); the Mori Residential and Office Towers in Tokyo (1995-2001), in which he integrated an existing Zen Buddhist temple and two 42-story towers; the NTT Shinjuku headquarters in Tokyo (1995), a corporate office tower and complex whose sleek, 30-story prismatic glass "skin" Mr. Pelli designed to express NTT's technological advances; and the Canary Wharf Tower in London (1991), England's first skyscraper.
It is perhaps inevitable that visitors will view this challenging and comprehensive exhibit in the context of the destruction Tuesday of the two skyscraper towers of the World Trade Center in New York. Among the models and plans of the architect's major tall buildings included in the exhibit are those done in the 1980s for the World Financial Center in lower Manhattan, a complex of four towers that used landfill from the construction of the World Trade Center.
Mr. Pelli, whose offices are in New Haven, Conn., traveled to Washington to lead a press tour of the exhibition Tuesday. He had no comment on what Tuesday's tragedy means for the future of the skyscraper, but Building Museum coordinating exhibit curator David Gissen says the attacks couldn't help but change designers' views of what is possible and safe.
"The destruction of the World Trade Center will change everything that everybody does, not only architects. It will change everyone's urban planning," Mr. Gissen says.
"One of the biggest vehicles in the world hit two of the biggest buildings in the world. Basically, gigantic bombs hit them. They lasted as long as they did because the engineering was very solid."

The exhibit, of course, highlights Mr. Pelli's terminal at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, his most important Washington structure. The architect worked with 54 blue, white and yellow domes that he echoed in 10 artist-designed circular medallions on the concourse level. In 1997, he described the dome as "one of man's most ancient symbols of shelter."
The glass-and-steel complex cost $450 million, measures a quarter-mile in length and covers 1 million square feet. He says the domes of Thomas Jefferson's designs for Monticello and the monumental buildings in Washington inspired him.
The public knows Mr. Pelli best for his tall buildings, but judging from this exhibit, his output is amazingly varied. His design philosophy of firmly rooting a work of architecture in its time and place is not always applauded but suits him well.
Unlike fellow architects Frank Gehry, Richard Meier and Michael Graves, who have a signature design vocabulary, Mr. Pelli and his firm seek to express each project's uniqueness.
The Argentine-born Mr. Pelli began his career as a designer for Eero Saarinen and Associates in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Mr. Saarinen also has a definite connection with Washington. He is the architect of the dramatic and daring Washington Dulles International Airport in Sterling.
Mr. Pelli adopted Mr. Saarinen's design creed: Architecture is about developing an approach suited to different building types and sites and not with pushing an individual style. The exhibit begins with his early 1954 to 1964 work with Mr. Saarinen, which includes the TWA Terminal at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in 1958 and the Stiles and Morse residential colleges at Yale University.
The show continues with Mr. Pelli's development of carefully executed glass-curtain wall systems that he calls the "skin" of the structures. His San Bernardino City Hall (1972) and the Commons and Courthouse Center in Columbus, Ind. (1973), set complex civic areas within expressive and colorful walls. These designs culminated in the bright blue sculptural form of West Hollywood's Pacific Design Center, affectionately called the "Blue Whale."

Another Pelli design dictum is to integrate vibrant, even extreme, colors into striking geometric patterns. He manipulates color and patterns for complex and surprising architectural effects, as with the Design Center's blue, green and red buildings.
His Reagan Airport terminal is another such effort. The approach to the terminal brings into view 54 blue, yellow and white domes hovering over sky-lit modules. Moreover, he integrated art with the architecture to make the terminal even more light-filled. The architect commissioned works by 30 artists who worked on medallions, balustrades, murals, sculptures and two glass friezes to enrich the building.
Mr. Pelli integrated colorful and patterned surfaces in 1984 in Rice University's Herring Hall in Houston by placing glazed bricks and tiles over the glass and limestone surfaces. He continued the patterning, although with natural woods, in three private homes he designed in 1984, 1989 and 1999. The architect organized the 1999 residence, in Pebble Beach, Calif., around a central outdoor courtyard facing the bay and southern sun. He created the other two — one in nearby Maryland — around a central spine surrounded by pavilions and specific private spaces.
The exhibit ends with the Overture Project in Madison, Wis., probably Mr. Pelli's most ambitious undertaking. Crucial to the project is the challenge of integrating two important existing structures, the landmark Yost-Kessenich building and the historic Oscar Mayer Theatre, on a tight city site into the overall design. The Pelli firm began construction in June this year. It scheduled Phase I for completion in 2004.
The Yost-Kessenich building serves as the main entrance to the Overture Center, which offers myriad cultural activities in its many structures. Overture Hall will house the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Madison Opera. The theater will house theater, music, dance and film offerings and will play host to community events. The Isthmus Playhouse will play host to the Madison Repertory Theatre. Expansion of the Madison Art Center includes a 220-seat lecture hall and more gallery space. A new amphitheater will hold the Kids in the Crossroads community program.
"The final result of our work is making cities. It is our greatest responsibility," Mr. Pelli writes in his book "Observations for Young Architects" (Monacelli Press, 1999). Concern for the public sphere is the thread that ties together the fabric of his work, from the Overture Project to the colorful and delightful terminal at Reagan Airport, to the gleaming Petronas Towers in Malaysia and the World Financial Center, where he included colorful wall hangings patterned after Arts and Crafts movement coverings.
Mr. Pelli served as dean of the Yale University School of Architecture from 1977 to 1984 and continues to lecture. He writes extensively on architectural issues, with eight books and several issues of professional journals devoted to his theories and designs.
The American Institute of Architects awarded Mr. Pelli the 1995 Gold Medal. He has received nine honorary degrees and more than 100 awards for design excellence.

WHAT: "Cesar Pelli: Connections"
WHERE: National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays through April 28
PHONE: 202/272-2448

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