In the Memory of Pelli

Argentinian-American architect Cesar Pelli, the architect of Sidra Medicine facility in Qatar, the man who has conceived some of the world’s tallest buildings and major urban landmarks, passed away on July 19.

Some of the most notable contributions of Cesar Pelli includes the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur and the World Financial Centre in New York City. The American Institute of Architects named him one of the ten most influential living American architects in 1991 and awarded him the AIA Gold Medal in 1995. In 2008, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat presented him with The Lynn S. Beedle Lifetime Achievement Award.

The space between the towers known as the healing garden within the Sidra Medical Facility

Pelli known to build huge projects had commented to urban critic John King, “I love complex projects, the ones that so many people are going to use, that are transformative. The wonderful thing about those big projects is that they have a large impact on the city. That impact, if you plan and design it carefully, can be very much for the good.”

The reception area of Sidra Medicine

Another architectural critic Paul Goldberger commented on twitter after the death of Pelli: “He was a warm and gracious man, a civilising presence in his life and his work, an architect of great dignity and lively creativity who did as much as anyone in the last generation to evolve the form of the skyscraper.”

Pelli said, “I didn’t start getting interested in skyscrapers until I designed one myself and my greatest influence – other than Le Corbusier – was Saarinen. I will always remember how hard he worked. He was the most important influence in my life as an architect.”

Born and educated in Tucumàn, Argentina, Pelli settled in the United States with his wife, landscape and urban designer Diana Balmori in 1952 to study at the University of Illinois School of Architecture. After graduating he joined Eero Saarinen in Michigan for ten years, working on the TWA Terminal at JFK Airport in New York and the Moses and Stiles Colleges at Yale University.

Pelli has left his mark on the architectural map of Qatar as well, through his design for Sidra Medicals, the centre that is said to be “a world-class hospital with state-of-the-art clinical services, providing an environment to attract the best health care talent in the world”.

Pelli along with his team at the architecture firm Pelli Clarke Architects conceived a signature design for the Sidra Medicals, anchored by three towering sails. Tranquil healing gardens filled with greenery and water are dramatically housed within the quiet, naturally lit space these atriums provide. A separate outpatient clinic is connected to the main hospital by glass walkway that is similarly surrounded by gardens and a reflective pool.

Even if it is the Damien Hirst’s The Miraculous Journey, 14 bronze sculptures that depict in vivid detail the gestation period, ending with a new-born, that takes the attention when one passes by the Sidra facility, the building is huge and striking enough to be the perfect backdrop for the gigantic artforms.

This health care and research complex is linked both physically and institutionally to the Weill Cornell Medical College in Education City, which hosts branch campuses of American universities. The 380-bed hospital is divided into three “hospitals within a hospital” that focus on children’s health, women’s health, and adult acute care. The identity of each hospital is articulated by a sweeping atrium form with dedicated drop-off and entrance zones from both street level and underground parking level. Reception portals and waiting areas for each hospital are each characterised by distinct material palettes. Natural materials, including wood, granite, and marble, are used throughout the lobby and public spaces to create warm and welcoming environment.

Pelli was an expert in working with steel and glass and was aware of their effect on the space between buildings

The inpatient rooms for each hospital are organised around three healing garden atria. Glass enclosed elevator lobbies overlook the lobby atrium and healing garden atrium, orienting visitors and patients within the building. The atria are clad in ceramic tile, enamel-coated metal panels, and high-performance glass with stainless steel accents and sunshades, utilising a variety of measures to filter and soften the strong sunlight.

One of Pelli’s best-known projects is the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, twin 1,483ft skyscrapers that were once the tallest buildings in the world.

While the Sidra might not be as well-known in the architectural circles like the tall towers Pelli usually is associated with, the building is a beautiful, sunlight facility that tends to focus on care and tranquillity but not by introducing obtuse hospital features of long corridors and depressing rooms with no sunlight. The entire hospital building is so designed that there is always an abundance of light in every nook and corner of the facility making it an inviting space.

When Pelli was asked how his epiphany should read, he said it should describe him as a good person. And that is what most of the architectural society seems to echo.

Pelli embraced the full spectrum of materials – be it stone or stainless steel, or colour and pattern – while remaining true to the spirit of modernism.

Though all his buildings had a star value, he shied away from being known as the star architect, or signature architect as he felt that architects must produce what is needed of them not do their own thing.

“We need to strengthen the quality of a place and not weaken it. If you do your own thing, you are weakening the quality of the place where you build. This is not a weakness in our discipline, but a source of strength.”