The Primacy of Petronas Towers:
Supertalls Go Global

Tue, May 4, 2021
Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur

Fred Clarke,


Senior Principal, Pelli Clarke Pelli

In 1998 the twin Petronas Towers in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur took the title of "world's tallest building" away from the United States for the first time. The towers’ developers, private investors working with the Malaysian government and Petronas, the national oil company, sought to create a headquarters and a landmark that would establish KL's prominence as a commercial and cultural capital. In the design of American architects Cesar Pelli and Fred Clarke, they found a winning scheme, paired towers of slender proportions and scalloped spires that suggest both Islamic geometries and temple forms.

Like the towers that would proliferate in Asia and the Middle East in the next decade, Petronas was constructed of high-strength concrete, supported by massive core and an outer ring of widely-spaced super columns. In both structural engineering and iconic imagery, Petronas pointed the way to the supertalls of the 21st-century.

Fred Clarke co-founded his firm, now known as Pelli Clarke Pelli, in 1977 in New Haven with the late Cesar Pelli while Cesar was Dean of the Architecture School at Yale University. As Senior Design Principal, Fred has directed all the projects in the New Haven and Asian studios. A career-long teacher and writer, Fred has been a faculty member of Yale University, Rice University, and the University of California at Los Angeles.


The video begins with Fred Clarke's lecture, followed by Q&A with Museum Director Carol Willis, whose introduction to the webinar is included after the discussion.