UMD Remembers World-Renowned Architect

Brandon Weathers
Updated: July 22, 2019 10:38 PM

World-renowned architect Cesar Pelli passed away Friday at 92. His legacy remains in the sky scrapers and buildings he's designed across the globe. In the early 2000s, he brought his talents to Duluth to build UMD's Weber Music Hall.

"Cesar came to town and designed what is really, probably, one of his smaller projects he's ever done, but it's a total jewel," said Brian Morse, one of the architects on the project.

Kathryn Martin was the chancellor for UMD at the time. She met Cesar back when she worked at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and they became friends. It was Martin who brought Cesar on to design Weber Music Hall.

Facility manager Don Schraufnagel said, "She had the foresight to know that it would be a great legacy."

The building has been an eye-catcher ever since it was built in 2002, but the unique shape was very intentional. No two walls or balconies are parallel. Every angle serves to improve the experience for both the audience and performers.

"His original concept of it is that it's like a seashell, the first musical instrument," Schraufnagel said. Morse added, "This was state-of-the-art acoustics applied right here in little Duluth, Minnesota by one of the biggest architects in the world."

Despite his international recognition, those who worked with Cesar were struck by his humility. Morse said, "He was 50 years old by the time he opened his own architectural practice. It wasn't about him, it was about the project. It always was."

His legacy continues, not only through Weber Music Hall, but through the lives he touched and the local architects who learned from his vision. Ken Johnson visited Cesar's New Haven office several times throughout the design process with Chancellor Martin. "He mentored me. He gave me some great advice about the profession, about my career, and he said, 'never give up. Never quit.' And I think he practiced right to the end," Johnson said.

Once the project was complete, Cesar continued to send Johnson Christmas cards. “Here’s this world famous architect sending me a Christmas card every year, and he personally signed it, and that’s just the kind of person he was. He wanted to stay in touch. It was more about the human connection.”

The Northland left a mark on Cesar, in return. Morse recalls a meeting Cesar was late for because he was busy taking in the view of Lake Superior from his hotel room. 

Morse said, “They had a tough time pulling Cesar away from there just to get him to come to the meeting. He said, ‘I got to see the moon!’ And he went back to New Haven and just told everybody, ‘You gotta go to Duluth.’ And this is coming from a guy that’s been around the world, seen everything, and he was just so impressed with Duluth."


Brandon Weathers

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