Art FocusCésar Pelli: The Architect of One Canada Square in Canary Wharf dies at 92

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César Pelli, the architect of One Canada Square in Canary Wharf London, the second tallest building in the UK and major British landmark, has died at the age of 92. Born in Argentina, César Pelli held from an early age a definitive interest in architecture, which he pursued at higher education level at the University of Tucumán, in Northern Argentina. After the completion of his course, he worked as a project designer for Eero Saarinen and was behind the installation of buildings such as the TWA Flight Centre terminal at John F. Kennedy airport and Malaysia’s Petronas Towers.

It was during his years at Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall (DMJM), that his more ground-breaking architectural designs were produced. César Pelli’s career as Director of Design led to the creation of multiple award-winning, global projects such as the San Bernardino City Hall and Los Angeles’ Pacific Design Centre. Under the instructions of both Cesar Pelli and Anthony Lurnsden, DMJM pioneered the glass membrane design system, otherwise known as the “skin design system.” The process involved turning inwards mullions, the vertical bar between window panels, to establish new ways of sheathing buildings in glass, and the design consequently reinvented the corporate face of twentieth century architecture.

César Pelli Associates

Not only was César Pelli an avant-garde, 20thcentury architect, he was equally a highly celebrated mentor.  He adopted the role of Dean at Yale University’s School of Architecture and founded an organisation in his own name, César Pelli Associates. It was following the establishment of his own organisation that he created the design for One Canada Square in Canary Wharf, London. Clad with stainless steel, the skyscraper towers above other building at 770 feet or 235m from ground level and comprises of 50 floors.  The building birthed an unmatchable standard when it comes up to high rise structures, through its skyline views, flexible floor plates and 32 high-speed passenger lifts to serve its business occupants. The tallest building in the UK when it was constructed, One Canada Square is still the second tallest, beaten only by the 1,020ft Shard.

One Canada Square. Image Credit: Geograph

In recognition of the input received from the principals at Yale’s School of Architecture on upcoming projects, he later renamed César Pelli Associates, Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects.

Deciding the Design

According to the Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects’ firm, César Pelli’s designs were rooted in the belief that “buildings should be responsible citizens and the aesthetic qualities of a building” should go from specificities of each building.” These include the building’s location, the construction technology to be employed and the building’s purpose.

Canary Wharf’s “One Canada Square” is no exception; the steel cladding topped with a ‘linen’ finish was chosen after different cladding materials were surveyed and thereafter the cladding was deemed the best fit for the “atmosphere of London.” In contrast to other UK buildings, “One Canada Square” incorporated a flashing light to warn aircraft, as the building’s pyramid apex stands 800 feet above sea level.

On the morning of August 1991 when “One Canada Square” was officially unveiled, César Pelli in his speech announced, “According to Lao Tse, the reality of a hollow object is in the void and not in the walls that define it. He was speaking, of course, of spiritual realities. These are the realities also of the Canary Wharf Tower. The power of the void is increased and…its supporting structure creates a portal to the sky … a door to the infinite.”

One Canada Square at Night. Image Credit: Geograph

Architectural Legacy

His research into different architectural issues has inspired countless students pursuing or currently studying architecture and continues to do so. Published by the Monacelli Press, in 1999, he wrote “Observations for Young Architects” which showcases his art and reflects on the making of a building; concurrently, his writing itinerary extends to span nine other publications and professional journals.

In total, César Pelli has been the recipient of 13 Honorary Degrees, more than 300 awards for excellence in design and is an established fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, The International Academy of Architecture, the American Institute of Architects and L’’Academie d’Architecture in France. His continuous commitment to developing and enhancing architectural designs was celebrated with a Gold Award from the American Institute of Architects in 1995 and for the design of Petronas Towers, César Pelli was awarded the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

In the wake of the architect’s passing , President Mauricio Macri of Argentina stated, “I want to send my condolences to the relatives and friends of the talented César Pelli. The work he leaves throughout the world as a legacy are a pride for Argentines.”

His business partner, Fred W. Clarke addressed his legacy as a “founder, mentor, and great friend”, alongside being “a gifted architect and teacher, two callings he effortlessly combined as one.”

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