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Architect César Pelli, designer of NYC’s World Financial Center, dies at 92

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Pelli designed the lower Manhattan complex, along with other notable skyscrapers

The World Financial Center—now known as Brookfield Place—was designed by César Pelli on fill from Battery Park City.

Argentine-American architect César Pelli, who designed some of the world’s most iconic skyscrapers, died on July 19 at the age of 92.

In New York City, Pelli is best known for designing the World Financial Center (now known as Brookfield Place) in lower Manhattan, a complex of half a dozen buildings that were constructed on fill left over from the development of Battery Park City. “As bulky as the towers are, they began … to soften the impact of the then-neighboring World Trade Center’s raw, 110-story prisms,” the authors of the AIA Guide to New York City wrote in that publication’s latest edition.

The centerpiece of that complex is the Winter Garden atrium, a privately-owned public space surrounded by restaurants and retail. The soaring glass arch that tops the atrium—which is, as the AIA Guide notes, “roughly the size of Grand Central’s concourse”—is complemented by a thicket of tall palm trees. Though it’s remained unchanged since the space opened in 1988, it’s still deserving of the effusive praise Paul Goldberger heaped on it at the time:

Almost every new building these days has an atrium or an arcade or a mall or a plaza, and most of them are dreary devices inserted by their developers primarily for the zoning benefits the city offers their builders. The Winter Garden, however, can stand on its own: this is a triumphal public space that has something to say to an age that is, quite properly, cynical about the meaning of monumentality.

The atrium at the World Financial Center’s Winter Garden.

Born in northern Argentina in 1926, Pelli studied architecture at the National University of Tucumán before moving to the United States to study at the University of Illinois. He worked on staff at Eero Saarinen’s firm for 10 years, contributing to projects like the TWA terminal at JFK Airport and the Morse and Stiles Colleges at Yale University. He then relocated to Los Angeles, creating the Pacific Design Center while on staff at Gruen Associates.

In 1977, at the age of 50, Pelli won a commission to design a renovation and expansion for the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The immense project prompted him to establish his own architecture firm, Cesar Pelli & Associates, with his wife, the late landscape architect Diana Balmori, and the architect Fred Clarke (the firm is now named Pelli Clarke Pelli).

That same year Pelli was appointed dean of the Yale School of Architecture, a position he held until 1984. In recent years, he designed such iconic structures as San Francisco’s Salesforce Tower—that city’s tallest building—and Kuala Lumpur’s twin Petronas Towers.

His other New York City commissions include One Beacon Court, the billionaire-beloved skyscraper, and the Carnegie Hall Tower in Midtown. Take a look at some of his NYC works below.

Carnegie Hall tower, at center, was designed by Pelli and completed in 1991.
The Winter Garden atrium at night.
One Beacon Court, located at 731 Lexington Avenue, is also colloquially known as the “Bloomberg Tower.”