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J. Michael Welton

J. Michael Welton

Posted: March 24, 2011 11:25 AM

Cesar Pelli's California Cathedrals


During the span of the last 40 years, architect Cesar Pelli has realized an opportunity that few of his peers will ever see.

The 84 year old has designed three monumental cathedrals for one highly visible site -- each a fragment unto itself, and all leaning into one another as part of a unified whole.

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Two weeks ago at a topping-off ceremony for his Red Building at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, he celebrated the culmination of a design process he began in 1971. "I never thought it would happen, but now it has," he said. "Every time we expanded, the circumstances changed, because the whole design industry changed."

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The center now houses 130 showrooms and 2,200 interior product lines, all on a 1.2 million square-foot campus of 14 acres. This week, thousands of design professionals have arrived on site to attend the 33rd annual WestWeek for five full days of lectures, product introductions, book signings and deal making. All will take place within Pelli's 1975 Blue Building and 1985 Green Building, both languishing in the shadow of his nearly completed Red Building.

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"It's shaped like a boat, or a slice of something," he says of the latest in his trio of fragments. "It's composed to work with the other two, as one composition. Together, it's the most important space in West Hollywood."

It was not always that way.

When Pelli started 40 years ago, the Blue Building was to be a standalone -- a huge entablature unto itself. Ten years later came the opportunity for a second structure.


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"I was inspired by Jorge Luis Borges and his story of the Frenchman who wanted to rewrite Don Quixote -- not to copy, but to add contemporary meaning," he said. "I had to recreate a work of art with different intentions. It had to be reconceived from being a battleship floating in a West Hollywood sea to being a fragment in a Greek ruin in Olympia."

Soon, all will be able to see the reflection of the glass fritte of his Red Building reflected in the glass of his Green and Blue Buildings. "It's lively and it's eye-catching," he said. "It's a composition that expresses the pleasure and the joy of design."

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Career-wise though, it's freighted with meaning that's traversed an unusual arc. "This isn't the pinnacle," he said. "It's more like the trajectory of my career -- it goes backward and forward, backward and forward, much like the Middle Ages."

But this is a cathedral of a different color.

For more by J. Michael Welton, go to architectsandartisans.com

 

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