The Real Deal Miami

Q&A with Cesar Pelli

The world-renowned architect talks about Miami’s architectural renaissance
By Alexander Britell | February 02, 2012 12:45PM

Architect Cesar Pelli

From the World Financial Center in New York to the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Argentine architect Cesar Pelli has made his mark on some of the tallest buildings in the world. He’s no stranger to Miami, though, having designed the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, which debuted downtown in 2006. Pelli returns to Miami for his latest project, for which his firm, Pelli Clarke Pelli will design the master plan for a proposed redevelopment of the Arsht District, a large-scale mixed-use development anchored by a chain of public parks. The Real Deal talked to Pelli about his new project, the “sea change” he’s seen in Miami architectural design and his latest projects across the country.

What is your hope for the Arsht District plan?

My hope is that the main ideas of [my plans] are executed — not the specifics — that’s impossible. But if the ideas take hold in the community, it can do wonders for it.

How much has Miami changed since you first began looking at projects there in the 1990s?

Many people thought that this performing arts center was going to increase property values and bring development north. And indeed it has happened — now it has to cross 395. As you can see in the plans of Genting, the fact that the museums are going ahead at the edge of 395, it’s imminent. Our role is, as we were asked by the Town Square Neighborhood Development Corporation, to look at what would be a healthy way for this development to take form in this very undeveloped area.

What was the biggest challenge in putting together this plan?

That nobody owns any property there!

You’ve designed some of the tallest projects in the world. Could Miami be the scene of a Petronas Towers-type of structure?

Of course — oh yes. Not necessarily that, but Miami is already building a number of extraordinary buildings — I think it’s amazing in terms of architectural quality, and there has been a sea change in Miami since we first came here.

What are those that you’ve seen in the city?

The most incredible thing is the vitality of Miami — nobody quite believed in it, and everybody doubted it in the mid-1990s when we first cane here. And Miami, even with a recession, it’s amazing how vital Miami remains.

What are some of the projects you’re working on right now?

We’re working on several theaters — but nothing as large or as ambitious as this. We are actually working on three universities [the University of Iowa, a theater for the DePaul University Theater School and another at Western Illinois University].