He detests the notion that we'd want to live in isolated Corbusian towers instead of cities with streets and buildings, each serving as foreground as well as background. He blames Modernism's make-it-new spirit for urban renewal as well.
"The issue really is the city. Buildings are secondary. Architects don't understand this. They think their building is the most important in the whole world. But a building is part of a city."
He's a generation too old to be comfortable with postmodernism and its promiscuous blending of historical references. He loves the architecture of the Renaissance and calls Milan's 18th century La Scala opera house among his favorites, with its boxes occupied by generations of the same family. But the architecture cannot be repeated because the culture it served, he says, is dead.
Modernism, then, is what we're left with.
ONE of Pelli's key breaks with Modernism -- which famously created an International Style in architecture and oriented music and poetry to avant-garde cosmopolitanism -- was the issue of local roots. Pelli is famous for soaking up and reflecting the spirit of a place; a criticism of his work is it has no signature, no aesthetic soul.
Pelli is unconcerned. "Designing to fit a place culturally, physically and historically is very important," he says, adding that it's hardly new: Architects fit their work to the site for centuries until the International Style, and careerism, made architects see themselves as auteurs who bring their signature to any site.
In Orange County he designed the hall very differently than he did Miami's Knight Concert Hall, where he took advantage of deep, richly colored skies sometimes full of glorious clouds. (That hall, part of the vastly over-budget Carnival Center for the Performing Arts, is scheduled to open in October.)
In Orange County, he says, "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 skin, which encases an expansive lobby, is an 87-foot-high, undulating clear-glass curtain that suggests both sound waves and the Pacific Ocean -- which Pelli says give the region its character. The wave motif continues on balconies inside the 2,000-seat hall, which uses maple walls and doors and a silver-leaf canopy as flexible acoustic elements to be tuned by acoustician Russell Johnson.
The lobby glass, Pelli says, plays to the county's love of the outdoors and leaves a barely perceptible separation between the lobby and plaza -- and the new Richard Serra sculpture outside. The complex also includes the 500-seat Samueli Theater, which can accommodate rock and jazz. Nearby is Pelli's stainless-steel Plaza Tower as well as his sleek expansion of South Coast Repertory.
Pelli is especially proud of the lobby, which looks out over the old Segerstrom Hall and is designed with a central stairwell to encourage people to circulate. "It is one of the best ways for people to socialize," he says, and "one of the main reasons people go to a concert."
A concert hall, says Pelli, is a special kind of building, because architecture and music "are such different art forms as to be complementary. Architecture is so collaborative, so extended in time" -- he began designing the hall in 1999 -- "it becomes very cerebral. A musical performance is instantaneous, immediate, fragile. I love that back and forth."
A period of rebirth
HODGETTS thinks Pelli has bounced back over the last few years, especially with his recent projects in Hong Kong and Japan. "I'm seeing the old Cesar and the daring and invention that I associate with him. Architects have long lives, so I'm expecting great work for him." But he wonders if Pelli has any currency for the next generation in these days when young architects are "fixated on their careers" and on generating hype.
The Skyscraper Museum's Willis calls 1998's Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur -- twin 88-story buildings with a 120-foot-deep foundation, which was until 2003 the world's tallest building -- "Pelli's masterpiece among his skyscrapers." As for his U.S. projects: "These buildings that function like machines in cities are much harder to make into jewels. You have to evaluate the building as 'Do they work?' rather than 'Are they exquisitely detailed?' "
Juan Azulay, a 34-year-old Glendale architect who shares Pelli's Argentine roots, says Pelli is relevant to young architects as well as the students Azulay teaches at the Southern California Institute of Architecture. "Especially if the discussion is about how cities are made rather than what buildings look like," he says. "I think he's caused us to shift the discussion a little bit."