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Ieoh Ming Pei
I.M. Pei.JPG
I.M. Pei in Luxembourg, 2006
Personal information
Name Ieoh Ming Pei
Nationality Chinese American
Birth date April 26, 1917 (1917-04-26) (age 92)
Birth place Guangzhou (Canton), China
Practice Pei Cobb Freed & Partners
Buildings John F. Kennedy Library, Boston
National Gallery of Art East Building
Louvre Pyramid, Paris
Bank of China Tower, Hong Kong
Museum of Islamic Art, Doha
Awards AIA Gold Medal
Presidential Medal of Freedom
Pritzker Prize

Ieoh Ming Pei () (born April 26, 1917), commonly known by his initials I. M. Pei, is a Chinese-born American architect. Although he refuses to apply labels to his own work, he is considered a master of modern architecture.[1] Born in Guangzhou and raised in Hong Kong and Shanghai, Pei drew artistic inspiration at an early age from the gardens at Suzhou. He was fascinated by movies from the United States, especially those of Buster Keaton and Bing Crosby, and taught himself English by reading the Bible and novels by Charles Dickens.

In 1935, Pei moved to the United States and enrolled in the architecture school at the University of Pennsylvania, but quickly transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was unhappy with the focus on Beaux-Arts architecture, and spent his free time researching the emerging masters of modern architecture, especially Le Corbusier. After graduating, he joined the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) and became friends with the Bauhaus architects Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. In 1942, he married Eileen Loo, who had introduced him to the GSD community. They have been married for over fifty years, and have four children (two of whom also became architects).

Pei spent ten years working with New York real estate magnate William Zeckendorf before establishing his own independent design firm. Originally called I. M. Pei & Associates, the firm evolved over many years to its current incarnation as Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. Among the early projects on which Pei took the lead were the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington, DC and the Green Building at MIT. He created his first widely recognized signature building when he designed the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado. The recognition from this project led to his selection for the John F. Kennedy Library in Massachusetts. He went on to design Dallas City Hall and the East Building of the National Gallery of Art.

He returned to China for the first time in 1974, and agreed to design a hotel at Fragrant Hills. The project became something of a disaster for Pei, but he returned to East Asia again fifteen years later to design a skyscraper in Hong Kong for the Bank of China. In the early 1980s, Pei was the focus of a huge controversy when he designed a glass-and-steel pyramid for the Louvre museum in Paris. Critical and public opinion eventually turned in Pei's favor, but the experience was difficult for the architects and project coordinators. Pei later returned to the world of the arts by designing the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, the Miho Museum in Japan, and the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar.

Pei has won a wide variety of prizes and awards in the field of architecture, including the AIA Gold Medal in 1979, the first Praemium Imperiale for Architecture in 1989, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in 2003. In 1983 he won the Pritzker Prize, sometimes called the Nobel Prize of architecture. In its citation, the jury wrote: "Ieoh Ming Pei has given this century some of its most beautiful interior spaces and exterior forms.... His versatility and skill in the use of materials approach the level of poetry."[2]



Men and women stand on curving rock formations overlooking a pond containing flowery plants.
As a child, Pei found the Shizilin Garden in Suzhou to be "an ideal playground".[3]

Pei's family traces its record back to the Ming Dynasty, when his ancestors moved from Anhui province to Suzhou. Finding success and wealth through the sale of medicinal herbs, the Pei family stressed the importance of helping the less fortunate. Pei's father Tsuyee worked at the Bank of China, first in Beijing and later in Shanghai. He had met Lien Kwun in college and they married soon afterwards; their first child was a daughter named Yuen Hua. In 1914 Tsuyee Pei was transferred to a new bank branch in Canton (now Guangzhou), where the family stayed for four years.[4]

Ieoh Ming Pei was born on 26 April 1917, and the family moved to Hong Kong one year later. His parents gave birth to another daughter, Wei, and two more sons, Kwun and Chung. As a boy, Pei was very close to his mother, a devout Buddhist who was recognized for her skills as a flautist. She invited him (and not his brothers or sisters) to join her on meditation retreats.[5]

His relationship with his father was less intimate. Their interactions were respectful but distant; open displays of emotion between father and son were rare. Their ancestors' success meant that the family lived in the upper echelons of society, but Tsuyee Pei was – in his son's words – "not cultivated in the ways of the arts".[6] The younger Pei, drawn more to music and other cultural forms than to his father's domain of banking, explored art on his own. "I have cultivated myself", he said later.[7]

At the age of ten, Pei moved with his family to Shanghai after his father was promoted to manager at the headquarters of the Bank of China. Pei attended Saint Johns Middle School, run by Protestant missionaries. Academic discipline was rigorous; students were allowed only one half-day each month for leisure. Pei enjoyed playing billiards and watching Hollywood movies, especially those of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. He also learned rudimentary English language skills by reading the Bible and novels by Charles Dickens.[8]

A large stone obelisk capped by an angel statue faces a row of tall buildings near a harbor, divided by a busy street.
Pei describes the architecture of Shanghai's Bund waterfront area (seen here in a photo from 1928) as "very much a colonial past".[9]

Shanghai's many international elements gave it the name "Paris of the East".[10] The city's global architectural flavors had a profound influence on Pei, from the Bund waterfront area to the Park Hotel, built in 1934. "While I was playing billiards and going to the cinema", he said later, "this building was going up, getting taller and taller. It became twenty-four stories high. That had an influence on me and gave me a glimpse into the future."[11]

Pei was also impressed by the many gardens of Suzhou, where he spent the summers with extended family and regularly visited a nearby ancestral shrine. The Shizilin Garden, built in the 14th century by a Taoist monk, was especially influential. Its unusual rock formations, stone bridges, and waterfalls remained etched in Pei's memory for decades. He spoke later of his fondness for the garden's blending of natural and human-built structures.[3][8]

Soon after the move to Shanghai, Pei's mother developed cancer. As part of her treatment for her painful symptoms, she was prescribed opium; she gave Pei the honor of preparing her pipe. She died shortly after his thirteenth birthday, and he was profoundly upset by the loss. (He said later that "her death affected me more than the others".)[12] The children were sent to live with extended family; their father became more consumed by his work and more physically distant. Pei said: "My father began living his own separate life pretty soon after that."[13]

Education and formative years

A man with short combed hair in profile, with the words "BING CROSBY" printed below.
Pei said that "[Bing] Crosby's films in particular had a tremendous influence on my choosing the United States instead of England to pursue my education."[14]

As Pei neared the end of his secondary education, he decided to study at an overseas university. His father had developed business contacts in the United Kingdom, but Pei was interested in France and the United States. The elder Pei was firmly opposed to the French option; he told his son: "Paris is not a place for serious study."[15] Although Pei agreed to take the entrance exams for Oxford University, he insisted on making the final choice himself. He was accepted to a number of schools including Oxford, but decided to enroll at the University of Pennsylvania.[16]

Pei's choice was rooted in two separate areas of influence. While studying in Shanghai, he had closely examined the catalogs for various institutions of higher learning around the world. The architectural program at the University of Pennsylvania stood out to him.[15] The other major factor was Hollywood. Pei was fascinated by the representations of college life in the films of Bing Crosby, which differed tremendously from the academic atmosphere in China. "College life in the U.S. seemed to me to be mostly fun and games", he said in 2000. "Since I was too young to be serious, I wanted to be part of it.... You could get a feeling for it in Bing Crosby's movies. College life in America seemed very exciting to me. It's not real, we know that. Nevertheless, at that time it was very attractive to me. I decided that was the country for me."[17]

In 1935 Pei boarded the SS President Coolidge and sailed to San Francisco, then traveled by train to Philadelphia. What he found, however, differed vastly from his expectations. Professors at the University of Pennsylvania based their teaching in the Beaux-Arts style, rooted in the classical traditions of Greece and Rome. Pei was more intrigued by modern architecture, and also felt intimidated by the high level of drafting proficiency shown by other students. He decided to abandon architecture and transferred to the engineering program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Once he arrived, however, the dean of the architecture school commented on his eye for design and convinced Pei to return to his original major.[18]

The MIT architecture faculty was also focused on the Beaux-Arts school, and Pei found himself uninspired by the work. In the library he found three books by the Swiss-French architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, better known as Le Corbusier. Pei was inspired by the innovative designs of the new International style, characterized by simplified form and the use of glass and steel materials. Le Corbusier visited MIT in November 1935, an occasion which powerfully affected Pei: "The two days with Le Corbusier, or 'Corbu' as we used to call him, were probably the most important days in my architectural education."[19] Pei was also influenced by the work of US architect Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1938 he drove to Spring Green, Wisconsin to visit Wright's famous Taliesin building. After waiting for two hours, however, he left without meeting Wright.[20]

Although he disliked the emphasis on the Beaux-Arts school, Pei excelled in his studies. "I certainly don't regret the time at MIT," he said later. "There I learned the science and technique of building, which is just as essential to architecture."[21] Pei received his Bachelors of Architecture degree in 1940, with a thesis centered on prefabricated information centers designed for the Chinese countryside.[22] He planned to return to China immediately afterward, but the Second Sino-Japanese War forced him to change his plans. Pei's father urged him to remain in the United States, and he worked for two years at the Boston engineering firm of Stone & Webster.

A portrait photograph of a middle-aged man with straight black hair, wearing a dark suit. His left hand rests against his face.
Walter Gropius shared Pei's admiration for modern architecture.[21]

While visiting New York City in the late '30s, Pei met a Wellesley College student named Eileen Loo. They began dating and they married in the spring of 1942. She enrolled in the landscape architecture program at Harvard University, and Pei was thus introduced to members of the faculty at Harvard's Graduate School of Design. He was excited by the lively atmosphere, and joined the GSD in December 1942.[23]

Less than a month later, Pei suspended his work at Harvard to join the National Defense Research Committee, which coordinated scientific research into US weapons technology during World War II. Pei's background in architecture was seen as a considerable asset; one member of the committee told him: "If you know how to build you should also know how to destroy."[24] The fight against Germany was ending, so he focused on the Pacific War. The US realized that its bombs used against the stone buildings of Europe would be ineffective against Japanese cities, mostly constructed from wood and paper; Pei was assigned to work on incendiary bombs. Pei spent two and a half years with the NDRC, but has revealed few details. "That was a very sad part of my life," he said in 2000. "I don't want to talk about it."[25]

In 1945 Eileen gave birth to a son, T'ing Chung; she withdrew from the landscape architecture program in order to care for him. Pei returned to Harvard in the autumn of 1945, and received a position as assistant professor of design. The GSD was developing into a hub of resistance to the Beaux-Arts orthodoxy. At the center were members of the Bauhaus, a European architectural movement that had advanced the cause of modernist design. The Nazi regime condemned the Bauhaus school, and its leaders left Germany. Two of these, Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, took positions at the Harvard GSD. Their iconoclastic focus on modern architecture appealed to Pei, and he worked closely with both men.[26]

Pei said of Breuer: "He was my best friend and teacher at Harvard."[27] He and Eileen joined Breuer and his wife Connie on a boating tour of Greece, where they discussed the importance of light to architecture and design. Pei remained a close friend until Breuer died in 1981.[28] Breuer was known at the GSD for his accommodation of emotion; Gropius, on the other hand, was an avid rationalist. He demanded reasoned argument from his associates but, according to Pei, was open to new ideas with sound logical explanations. As Pei said later: "That symbiosis between Breuer and Gropius created a very exciting environment for young architects."[21]

One of Pei's design projects at the GSD was a plan for an art museum in Shanghai. He wanted to create a mood of Chinese authenticity in the architecture without using traditional materials or styles. "My problem," he said, "is to find an architectural expression that will be truly Chinese without any resort to Chinese architectural details and motives as we know them."[29] The design was based on straight modernist structures, organized around a central courtyard garden, with other similar natural settings arranged nearby. The design was very well received; Gropius, in fact, called it "the best thing done in [my] master class".[29] Pei received his master's degree in 1946, and taught at Harvard for another two years.[30]

Webb and Knapp

A man in a suit sits behind a desk in an office decorated with cube chairs and a glass sphere.
William Zeckendorf (shown here in the office redesigned by his architectural team) hired Pei after ordering a search for what he called "the greatest unknown architect in the country".[31]

In the spring of 1948 Pei was recruited by New York real estate magnate William Zeckendorf to join a staff of architects for his firm of Webb and Knapp to design buildings around the country. Zeckendorf once said that he and his associate Nelson Rockefeller were "the modern Medicis" who should be looking for "the modern Michelangelos and Da Vincis".[31] Pei found Zeckendorf's personality very different from his own; his new boss was known for his loud speech and gruff demeanor. "If I were to think of someone who is my exact opposite," Pei said later, "I would say it was William Zeckendorf...."[32] Nevertheless, they became good friends and Pei found the experience personally enriching. Zeckendorf was well connected politically, and Pei enjoyed learning about the social world of New York's city planners.[33]

His first project for Webb and Knapp was an apartment building with funding from the Housing Act of 1949. Pei's design was based on a circular tower with concentric rings. The areas closest to the supporting pillar handled utilities and circulation; the apartments themselves were located toward the outer edge. Zeckendorf loved the design and even showed it off to Le Corbusier when they met. The cost of such an unusual design was too high, however, and the building never moved beyond the model stage.[34]

Pei finally saw his architecture come to life in 1950, when he designed a corporate building for Gulf Oil in Atlanta, Georgia. A utilitarian 50,000-square-foot box, Pei's design echoed the work of Mies van der Rohe. His use of marble for the exterior curtain wall, however, distinguished the building and brought praise from the journal Architectural Forum.[35] Soon Pei was so inundated with projects that he asked Zeckendorf for assistants, which he chose from his associates at the GSD, including Henry N. Cobb and Ulrich Franzen. They set to work on a variety of proposals, including the Roosevelt Field Shopping Mall. The team also redesigned the Webb and Knapp office building, transforming Zeckendorf's office into a circular space with teak walls and a glass clerestory. They also installed a control panel into the desk that allowed their boss to control the lighting in his office. The project took one year and exceeded its budget, but Zeckendorf was delighted with the results.[36]

A tall brown building with cutaway sides and filled with windows along the front wall stands behind a short grey-green pyramid, overlooking a stone pedestrian walkway.
Pei wanted the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel to be "functionally and visually related to the [other parts of L'Enfant Plaza]".[37]

In 1952 Pei and his team began work on a series of projects in Denver, Colorado. The first of these was the Mile High Center, which compressed the core building into less than twenty-five percent of the total site; the rest is adorned with an exhibition hall and fountain-dotted plazas.[38] One block away, Pei's team also redesigned Denver's Courthouse Square, which combined office spaces, commercial venues, and hotels. These projects helped Pei conceptualize architecture as part of the larger urban geography. "I learned the process of development," he said later, "and about the city as a living organism."[39] These lessons, he said, became essential for later projects.[39]

The team also designed a united urban area for Washington, DC. Pei helped design L'Enfant Plaza (named for French-American architect Pierre Charles L'Enfant), and served as the lead architect for the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel. The team set out with a broad vision that was praised by both the Washington Post and Washington Star (which rarely agreed on anything), but funding problems forced revisions and a significant reduction in scale.[40]

I. M. Pei & Associates

In 1955 Pei's group took a step toward institutional independence from Webb and Knapp by establishing a new firm called I. M. Pei & Associates. (The name changed later to I. M. Pei & Partners.) They gained the freedom to work with other companies, but continued working primarily with Zeckendorf. The new firm distinguished itself through the use of detailed architectural models, which provided a precise vision of the building beyond that offered by other companies. They took on the Kips Bay residential area on the east side of Manhattan, where Pei set up two large long towers of apartments with recessed windows (to provide shade and privacy) in a neat grid, adorned with rows of trees. Pei involved himself in the construction process at Kips Bay, even inspecting the bags of concrete to check for consistency of color. He was interested, he said, in "doing, not just planning".[41]

A tent-shaped building with a curved sloping triangular roof and layered with brown color.
Pei was commissioned to design the Luce Memorial Chapel by the same organization that ran the middle school he had attended in Shanghai.[42]

The company continued its urban focus with the Society Hill project in central Philadelphia. Pei designed the Society Hill Towers, a three-building residential block injecting cubist design into the 18th-century milieu of the neighborhood. As with previous projects, abundant green spaces were central to Pei's vision, which also added traditional townhouses to aid the transition from classical to modern design. Forty years later, Pei considered the Society Hill and Kips Bay projects major successes. "I would look today with great pride at Philadelphia," he said in 2000.[43]

Although these projects were satisfying, Pei wanted to establish an independent name for himself. In 1959 he was approached by MIT to design a building for its Earth science program. It was funded by a grant from Cecil Green, an MIT alumnus who founded Texas Instruments. The Green Building continued the grid design of Kips Bay and Society Hill. The pedestrian walkway at the ground floor, however, was prone to sudden gusts of wind, which embarrassed Pei. "Here I was from MIT," he said, "and I didn't know about wind-tunnel effects."[44] At the same time, he helped design the Luce Memorial Chapel in Taiwan, which broke severely from the cubist designs of his urban projects.[45]

The challenge of coordinating these projects took an artistic toll on Pei. He found himself responsible for acquiring new building contracts and supervising the plans for them. As a result, he felt disconnected from the actual creative work. "Design is something you have to put your hand to," he said. "While my people had the luxury of doing one job at a time, I had to keep track of the whole enterprise."[46] Pei's dissatisfaction reached its peak at a time when financial problems began plaguing Zeckendorf's firm. I. M. Pei and Associates officially broke from Webb and Knapp in 1960, which benefited Pei creatively but pained him personally. He had developed a close friendship with Zeckendorf, and both men were sad to part ways.[47]

NCAR and Kennedy Library

A series of brown boxlike buildings stand in front of a mountain.
Pei said he wanted the Mesa Laboratory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research to look "as if it were carved out of the mountain".[48]

Pei was able to return to hands-on design when he was approached in 1961 by Walter Orr Roberts to design the new Mesa Laboratory for the National Center for Atmospheric Research outside Boulder, Colorado. The project differed from Pei's earlier urban work; it would rest in an open area in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. He drove with his wife around the region, visiting assorted buildings and surveying the natural environs. He was impressed by the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, but felt it was "detached from nature".[49]

The conceptualization stages were important for Pei, presenting a need and an opportunity to break from the Bauhaus tradition. He later recalled the long periods of time he spent in the area:

I recalled the places I had seen with my mother when I was a little boy—the mountaintop Buddhist retreats. There in the Colorado mountains, I tried to listen to the silence again—just as my mother had taught me. The investigation of the place became a kind of religious experience for me.[48]

Pei also drew inspiration from the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings of the Ancient Pueblo Peoples; he wanted the buildings to exist in harmony with their natural surroundings.[50] To this end, he called for a rock-treatment process that could color the buildings to match the nearby mountains. He also set the complex back on the mesa overlooking the city, and designed the approaching road to be long, winding, and indirect.[51]

Roberts disliked Pei's initial designs, referring to them as "just a bunch of towers".[52] Roberts intended his comments as typical of scientific experimentation, rather than artistic critique; still, Pei was frustrated. His second attempt, however, fit Roberts' vision perfectly: a spaced-out series of clustered buildings, joined by lower structures and complemented by two underground levels. The complex uses many elements of cubist design, and the walkways are arranged to increase the probability of casual encounters among colleagues. Its unique appearance and geometric presentation led to its selection as a filming location for Woody Allen's 1973 film Sleeper.[53]

A grid of palm trees arranged in a tiled courtyard stands before a dormitory building.
As with NCAR, Pei combined elements of cubism and natural harmony when designing the dormitories at New College of Florida in the mid-1960s.[54]

Once the laboratory was built, several problems with its construction became apparent. Leaks in the roof caused difficulties for researchers, and the shifting of clay soil beneath caused cracks in the buildings which were expensive to repair. Still, both architect and project manager were pleased with the final result. Pei refers to the NCAR complex as his "breakout building", and he remained friends with Roberts until the scientist died in March 1990.[55]

The success of NCAR brought renewed attention to Pei's design acumen. He was recruited to work on a variety of projects, including the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and the Sundrome terminal at Idlewild Airport in New York City. In 1963 he was asked to design dormitory buildings for New College of Florida, a small liberal arts college in Sarasota. Pei returned to the cubist designs of NCAR, and added an indigenous touch of nature in the central courtyard with a grid of palm trees. Palm Court remains a primary location for social activities at New College.[56]

After President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, his family and friends discussed how to construct a library that would serve as a fitting memorial. A committee was formed to advise Kennedy's widow Jacqueline, who would make the final decision. The group deliberated for months, and visited with architects from around the world including Pietro Belluschi and others from the US, Lucio Costa from Brazil, and Italy's Franco Albini. Mrs. Kennedy and others met with the candidates together at the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis, Massachusetts, and visited several in their offices. The committee also conducted a secretive process whereby the architects voted anonymously for the most capable of their colleagues.[57]

Kennedy chose Pei to design the library, based on two considerations. First, she appreciated the variety of ideas he had used for earlier projects. "He didn't seem to have just one way to solve a problem," she said. "He seemed to approach each commission thinking only of it and then develop a way to make something beautiful."[58] Ultimately, however, Kennedy made her choice based on her personal connection with Pei. Calling it "really an emotional decision", she explained: "He was so full of promise, like Jack; they were born in the same year. I decided it would be fun to take a great leap with him."[59]

The project was plagued with problems from the outset. The first was scope. President Kennedy had begun considering the structure of his library soon after taking office, and he wanted to include archives from his administration, a museum of personal items, and a political science institute. After the assassination, the list expanded to include a fitting memorial tribute to the slain president. The variety of necessary inclusions complicated the design process and caused significant delays.[60]

A white triangular tower rises beside a black glass building, with circular structures on either side.
Pei considers the John F. Kennedy Library "the most important commission in my life".[61]

Another problem was the building site. President Kennedy had originally hoped to locate the library in Cambridge, on the Charles River. The area was being used by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to store train cars, but the Commonwealth of Massachusetts purchased the land and Harvard University agreed to partner with the Presidential Library to reform and rename what became the Kennedy School of Government. Pei was pleased to be working again for his former teaching home.[62]

His first proposed design included a large glass pyramid that would fill the interior with sunlight, meant to represent the optimism and hope that Kennedy's administration had symbolized for so many in the US. Mrs. Kennedy liked the design, but resistance began in Cambridge as soon as the project was announced. Many community members worried that the library would become a tourist attraction, causing particular problems with traffic congestion. Others worried that the design would clash the architectural feel of nearby Harvard Square. By the mid-70s, Pei tried proposing a new design, but the library's opponents resisted every effort.[63] These events pained Pei, who had sent all three of his sons to Harvard, and although he rarely discussed his frustration, it was evident to his wife. "I could tell how tired he was by the way he opened the door at the end of the day," she said. "His footsteps were dragging. It was very hard for I.M. to see that so many people didn't want the building."[64]

Finally the project moved to Columbia Point, near the University of Massachusetts. The new site was less than ideal; it was located on an old landfill, and just over a large sewage pipe. Pei's architectural team added more fill to cover the pipe and developed an elaborate ventilation system to conquer the odor. A new design was unveiled, combining a large square glass-enclosed atrium with a triangular tower and a circular walkway.[65]

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum was dedicated on 20 October 1979. Critics generally liked the finished building, but the architect himself was unsatisfied. The years of conflict and compromise had changed the nature of the design, and Pei felt that the final result lacked its original passion. "I wanted to give something very special to the memory of President Kennedy," he said in 2000. "It could and should have been a great project."[61] Perhaps the most important consequence of the Kennedy project for Pei was his elevation in the public's consciousness as an architect of note.[66]

Dallas City Hall and Hancock Tower

A tall beige building with an angled front face, leaning out from the top, is supported by three columns and covered with rows of windows
Pei wanted his design for Dallas City Hall to "convey an image of the people".[67]

Kennedy's assassination led indirectly to another commission for Pei's firm. In 1964 the acting mayor, Erik Jonsson, began working to change the community's image. Dallas was known and disliked as the city where the president had been killed, but Jonsson began a "Goals for Dallas" program, designed to initiate a community renewal. One of these goals was a new city hall, which could be a "symbol of the people".[68] Jonsson, a co-founder of Texas Instruments, learned about Pei from his associate Cecil Howard Green, who had recruited the architect for MIT's Earth Sciences building.[69]

Pei's approach to the new Dallas City Hall mirrored those of other projects; he surveyed the surrounding area and worked to make the building fit. In the case of Dallas, he spent days meeting with residents of the city and was impressed by their civic pride. He also found that the skyscrapers of the downtown business district dominated the skyline, and sought to create a building which could face the tall buildings and represent the importance of the public sector. He spoke of creating "a public-private dialogue with the commercial high-rises".[70]

Working with his associate Theodore Musho, Pei developed a design centered on a building with a top much wider than the bottom; the facade leans at an angle of thirty-four degrees. A plaza stretches out before the building, and a series of support columns hold it up. It was influenced by Le Corbusier's High Court building in Chandigarh, India; Pei sought to use the significant overhang to unify building and plaza. The project cost much more than initially expected, and took eleven years. Revenue was secured in part by including a subterranean parking garage, whose prime location guaranteed continual income. The interior of the city hall is large and spacious; windows in the ceiling above the eighth floor fill the main space with light.[71]

The city of Dallas received the building well, and a local television news crew found unanimous approval of the new city hall when it officially opened to the public in 1978. Pei himself considered the project a success, even as he worried about the arrangement of its elements. He said: "It's perhaps stronger than I would have liked; it's got more strength than finesse."[72] He felt that his relative lack of experience left him without the necessary design tools to refine his vision, but the community liked the city hall enough to invite him back. Over the years he went on to design five additional buildings in the Dallas area.[73]

While Pei and Musho were coordinating the Dallas project, their associate Henry Cobb had taken the helm for another commission in Boston. John Hancock Insurance chairman Robert Slater hired I. M. Pei & Partners to design a building that could overshadow the tower erected by their rival Prudential Insurance. The proposed site beside Copley Square complicated matters, since it was home to a variety of buildings of classical architecture including Trinity Church, built in 1877. Pei and Cobb worked together on the first design, a cylindrical tower with a horizontal slice coated in glass. Executives liked the concept, but when the company decided it needed more square feet of office space, the idea was scrapped.[74]

Two dark buildings rise into the early evening sky. The tower on the right is spotted with wooden boards on its side.
The disastrous failure of glass panels on the Hancock Tower led some to call it "the world's tallest wooden building".[75]

Cobb developed a new plan around a towering parallelogram, slanted away from the church and accented by a wedge cut into each narrow side. To minimize the visual impact, the building was covered in large reflective glass panels; Cobb said this would make the building a "background and foil" to the older structures around it.[76] When the Hancock Tower was finished in 1976, it was the tallest building in New England.[77]

Almost immediately, however, serious problems with the tower became evident. A windstorm during construction in 1973 caused many of the glass panels to crack and break. Some detached and fell to the ground, causing no injuries but sparking worry among Boston residents. The entire tower was reglazed with smaller panels, significantly increasing the cost of the project. Hancock sued the glass manufacturers, Libby-Owens-Ford, as well as I. M. Pei & Partners, for submitting plans that were "not good and workmanlike".[78] LOF countersued Hancock for defamation, accusing Pei's firm of poor use of their materials; I. M. Pei & Partners sued LOF in return. All three companies settled out of court in 1981.[79]

The project became a badge of shame for Pei's firm; he refused to discuss it for many years, and the architects began looking overseas to find commissions. Cobb worked in Australia and Pei took on jobs in Singapore, Iran, and Kuwait. Although it was a difficult time for everyone involved, Pei later reflected with patience on the experience. "Going through this trial toughened us," he said. "It helped to cement us as partners; we did not give up on each other."[80]

National Gallery East Building

A top-down view of two buildings; one on the left composed of cross shapes and a round dome, the other on the right composed of two triangles.
Pei designed the base of the East Building's main triangle (right) to face the original National Gallery of Art (left).

In the mid-1960s, directors of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. declared the need for a new building. Paul Mellon, a primary benefactor of the gallery and a member of its building committee, set to work with his assistant J. Carter Brown (who became gallery director in 1969) to find an architect. The new structure would be located to the east of the original building, and tasked with two functions: Offer a large space for public appreciation of various popular collections; and house office space as well as archives for scholarship and research. They likened the scope of the new facility to the Library of Alexandria. After inspecting Pei's work at the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa and the Johnson Museum at Cornell University, they offered him the commission.[81]

Pei took to the project with vigor, and set to work with two young architects he had recently recruited to the firm, William Pedersen and Yann Weymouth. Their first obstacle was the unusual shape of the building site, a trapezoid of land at the intersection of Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues. Inspiration struck Pei in 1968, when he scrawled a rough diagram of two triangles on a scrap of paper. The larger building would be the public gallery; the smaller would house offices and archives. This triangular shape became a singular vision for the architect. As the date for groundbreaking approached, Pendersen suggested to his boss that a slightly different approach would make construction easier. Pei simply smiled and said: "No compromises."[82]

A large grey building rises above a stone plaza. Short square towers appear on either side of the building, and an array of irregular glass pyramids are in the middle of the plaza.
Time magazine headlined its review of Pei's design for the East Building "Masterpiece on the Mall".[83]

The growing popularity of art museums presented unique challenges to the architecture. Mellon and Pei both expected large crowds of people to visit the new building, and they planned accordingly. Pei said: "We needed to make the visit a pleasant one, so we built a circus."[84] To this end, he designed a large lobby roofed with enormous skylights. Individual galleries are located along the periphery, allowing visitors to return after viewing each exhibit to the spacious main room. A large mobile sculpture by American artist Alexander Calder was later added to the lobby.[85] Pei hoped the lobby would be exciting to the public in the same way as the central room of the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The modern museum, he said later, "must pay greater attention to its educational responsibility, especially to the young".[86]

Materials for the building's exterior were chosen with careful precision. To match the look and texture of the original gallery's marble walls, builders re-opened the quarry in Knoxville, Tennessee from which the first batch of stone had been harvested. The project even found and hired Malcolm Rice, a quarry supervisor who had overseen the original 1941 gallery project. The marble was cut into three-inch-thick panels and arranged over the concrete foundation, with darker blocks at the bottom and lighter blocks on top.[87]

The East Building was celebrated on 30 May 1978, two days before its public unveiling, with a black-tie party attended by celebrities, politicians, benefactors, and artists. When the building opened, popular opinion was enthusiastic. Large crowds visited the new museum, and critics generally voiced their approval. Ada Louise Huxtable wrote in The New York Times that Pei's building was "a palatial statement of the creative accommodation of contemporary art and architecture".[88] The sharp angle of the smaller building has been a particular note of praise for the public; over the years it has become stained and worn from the hands of visitors.[89]

Some critics disliked the unusual design, however, and criticized the reliance on triangles throughout the building. Others took issue with the large main lobby, particularly its attempt to lure casual visitors. In his review for Artforum, critic Richard Hennessy described a "shocking fun-house atmosphere" and "aura of ancient Roman patronage".[88] One of the earliest and most vocal critics, however, came to appreciate the new gallery once he saw it in person. Allan Greenberg had scorned the design when it was first unveiled, but wrote later to J. Carter Brown: "I am forced to admit that you are right and I was wrong! The building is a masterpiece."[90] Pei himself has always been pleased with the project; in 2000 he named it one of the three most important buildings he's designed.[91]

Fragrant Hills and Javits Convention Center

After US President Richard Nixon made his famous 1972 visit to China, a wave of exchanges took place between the two countries. One of these was a delegation of the American Institute of Architects in 1974, which Pei joined. It was his first trip back to China since leaving in 1935. He was favorably received, and commented on the positive work the communist government had done in combating poverty and corruption. He was less enamored of the architecture, however; beginning in the 1950s Chinese buildings closely followed European styles. During one lecture Pei urged the audience to search China's own traditions for architectural inspiration.[92]

A white building with ornamented windows faces a lake ringed with rock structures. Trees appear around the structure.
Pei was surprised by public resistance to his traditional design of the hotel at Fragrant Hills. "Many people thought I was being reactionary," he said.[93]

Four years later Pei was invited back, to conduct a series of lectures on architecture. At the time, the Chinese government was planning to construct several high-rise buildings to demonstrate their global stature. Pei cautioned against this approach, especially in the Forbidden City of Beijing. During a second visit in 1978, Pei was invited to a banquet in the Great Hall of the People, attended by many government dignitaries and reporters. He was asked to design a series of tall hotel buildings in the center of Beijing, precisely the sort of thing he had spoken against during his lecture tour. He refused, but the Chinese government urged him to consider some sort of project for his home country.[94]

After surveying a number of different locations, Pei fell in love with a valley once used as an imperial hunting preserve, known as Fragrant Hills. The site housed a hotel which was old and decrepit; Pei was invited to tear it down and build a new one. As usual, he approached the project by carefully considering its context and purpose. He researched Chinese architecture, but found that indigenous building motifs had been abandoned in the early nineteenth century and had never returned. Likewise, he considered modernist styles inappropriate for the setting. Thus, he said, it was necessary to find "a third way".[95]

After visiting his ancestral home in Suzhou, Pei created a design based on the simple but nuanced techniques of residential Chinese buildings, techniques that had remained unchanged for centuries. Among these were abundant gardens, integration of nature, and careful consideration of the relationship between enclosure and opening. Pei's design included a large central atrium covered by glass panels not unlike those used for the East Building of the National Gallery. Openings of various shapes peered through walls to display natural views beyond. Younger Chinese were disappointed by Pei's design, hoping that he would bring some of the cubist flavor for which he had become known. Older officials and architects, however, were pleased.[96]

The hotel, with 325 guest rooms and a four-story central atrium, was designed to fit perfectly into its natural habitat. The trees in the area were of special concern, and particular care was taken to cut down as few as possible. He worked with an expert from Suzhou to preserve and renovate a water maze from the original hotel, one of only five in the country. (Another is in the Forbidden City.) Pei was also meticulous about the arrangement of items in the garden behind the hotel; he even insisted on transporting 230 short tons (210 t) of rocks from a location in southwest China to suit the natural aesthetic. An associate of Pei's said later that he never saw the architect so involved in a project.[97]

During construction, a series of mistakes collided with the nation's lack of technology to strain relations between architects and builders. Whereas 200 or so workers might have been used for a similar building in the US, the Fragrant Hill project employed over 3,000 workers. This was mostly because the construction company lacked the sophisticated machines used in other parts of the world. After a Japanese manufacturer was hired to provide carpet, work crews stained the floors with dripping paint cans. The problems continued for months, until Pei had an uncharacteristically emotional moment during a meeting with Chinese officials. He later explained that his actions included "shouting and pounding the table" in frustration.[98] Fortunately, the design staff noticed a difference in the manner of work among the crew after the meeting. As the opening neared, however, Pei found the hotel still needed work. He began scrubbing floors with his wife and ordering his children to make beds and vacuum floors. These difficulties took an emotional and physical strain on the Pei family.[99]

The Fragrant Hill Hotel opened on 17 October 1982, but fell into disrepair almost immediately afterwards. The manager had been selected because of his history with the Chinese military, and the building was not maintained to Pei's satisfaction. A member of his staff returned for a visit several years later and confirmed that it had become dilapidated, which he and Pei attributed to the country's general unfamiliarity with deluxe buildings. As his colleague put it: "How do you tell someone who lives on a dirt floor at home that the bathrooms in a $100-a-night hotel aren't clean enough?"[100] The Chinese architectural community also showed little interest in the building; rather than explore the possibilities for uniquely Chinese designs, they tended to celebrate postmodern architects from the US like Michael Graves.[101]

A building of dark tinted glass stands over a city street. The corners of the building are smoothed at 45-degree angles.
Pei said of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center: "The complications exceeded even my expectations."[102]

As the Fragrant Hill project was nearing completion, Pei began working on the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City, although his associate James Freed served as lead designer. Hoping to create a vibrant community institution in a run-down neighborhood on Manhattan's west side, Freed developed a glass-coated structure with an intricate space frame of interconnected metal rods and spheres. The main hall would be tall enough to contain the Statue of Liberty and wide enough to hold two Boeing 747 airplanes side by side.[103]

The convention center was plagued from the start by budget problems and construction blunders. City regulations forbid a general contractor calling the shots, so architects and program manager Richard Kahan had to coordinate the wide array of builders, plumbers, electricians, and other workers. The forged steel globes to be used in the space frame came to the site with hairline cracks and other defects; 12,000 were rejected. These and other problems led to media comparisons with the disastrous Hancock Tower. One New York City official blamed Kahan for the difficulties, indicating that the building's architectural flourishes were responsible for delays and financial crises.[104]

The Javits Center opened on 3 April 1986, to a generally positive reception. During the inauguration ceremonies, however, neither Freed nor Pei were recognized for their role in the project. Various city officials had become involved in the management of the center, and they were among those thanked by Governor Mario Cuomo while Pei and Freed were not. Still, some of those involved expressed personal gratitude for those involved in early stages of planning. Kahan had left the project to start his own development firm, but was invited to tour the building once it was completed. A construction worker recognized the former coordinator and told him: "It's too bad the wrong fucking guys will be cutting the ribbon."[105] Freed's renown in the world of architecture grew, however, and he was soon invited to design another convention center in Los Angeles, and later the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.[106]

Le Grand Louvre

A classical building with ornamental design rises above a small crowd. Rounded archways line the front of the structure.
Pei was acutely aware, as he said, that "the history of Paris was embedded in the stones of the Louvre."[107]

When François Mitterrand was elected President of France in 1981, he laid out an ambitious plan for a variety of construction projects. One of these was an office complex known as the Grande Arche, for which a design competition was held. Pei entered the contest, but lost to Danish architect Johann Otto von Spreckelsen. Mitterrand had noted Pei's entry with interest, however, and after visiting the East Building of the US National Gallery, met with Pei to express his hope that they could work together at some point.[108]

Another project in Mitterrand's plan was to renovate the world-famous Louvre Museum. Originally built at the end of the 12th century as a fortified castle by King Philip II of France, the structure was demolished by François I, who replaced it with a series of buildings complemented by later additions from Henry IV, Louis XIV, Napoleon I, and Napoleon III. For centuries, these structures have served various roles, including barracks, government offices, and even jails. Only when the Revolutionary Convention of 1793 opened the royal art collection to the public did the Louvre function as a museum.[109] In the years that followed, the area around the Louvre became dilapidated and unkempt. In his 1846 novel La Cousine Bette, French author Honoré de Balzac describes the buildings as presenting "Darkness, silence, an icy chill".[110]

Mitterrand appointed a civil servant named Emile Biasini to oversee the Louvre renovation. After visiting museums in Europe and the United States, including the US National Gallery, he asked Pei to join the team. The architect made three secretive trips to Paris, to determine the feasibility of the project; only one museum employee knew why he was there.[111] Pei finally agreed that a reconstruction project was not only possible, but necessary for the future of the museum. He agreed, and became the first foreign architect to work on the Louvre.[112]

The heart of the new design included not only a renovation of the Cour Napoléon in the midst of the buildings, but also a transformation of the interiors. Pei proposed a central entrance, not unlike the lobby of the National Gallery East Building, which would link the three major buildings. Below would be a complex of additional floors for research, storage, and maintenance purposes. At the center of the courtyard he designed a glass and steel pyramid, first proposed with the Kennedy Library, to serve as entrance and anteroom skylight. It was mirrored by another inverted pyramid underneath, to reflect sunlight into the room. These designs were partly an homage to the fastidious geometry of the famous French landscape architect André Le Nôtre (1613–1700).[113] Pei also found the pyramid shape best suited for stable transparency, and considered it "most compatible with the architecture of the Louvre, especially with the faceted planes of its roofs".[107]

Biasini and Mitterand liked the plans, but the scope of the renovation displeased Louvre director André Chabaud. He resigned from his post, complaining that the project was "unfeasible" and posed "architectural risks".[114] The public also reacted harshly to the design, mostly because of the proposed pyramid.[115] One critic called it a "gigantic, ruinous gadget";[116] another charged Mitterand with "despotism" for inflicting Paris with the "atrocity".[116] Pei estimated that 90 percent of Parisians opposed his design. "I received many angry glances in the streets of Paris," he said.[117] Some condemnations carried nationalistic overtones. One opponent wrote: "I am surprised that one would go looking for a Chinese architect in America to deal with the historic heart of the capital of France."[118]

A large pyramid made of glass and steel rises above a smaller identical one, both lit from inside against a cloudy night sky.
When critics suggested that Pei's Louvre Pyramid alluded to the Napoleonic Campaign in Egypt, he insisted: "[T]here is no relation between a stone pyramid and our glass pyramid; one is constructed for the dead and the other for the living."[119]

Soon, however, Pei and his team won the support of several key cultural icons, including the conductor Pierre Boulez and Claude Pompidou, widow of former French President Georges Pompidou, after whom another controversial museum was named. In an attempt to soothe public ire, Pei took a suggestion from then-mayor of Paris Jacques Chirac and placed a full-sized cable model of the pyramid in the courtyard. During the four days of its exhibition, an estimated 60,000 people visited the site. Some critics eased their opposition after witnessing the proposed scale of the pyramid.[120]

To minimize the impact of the structure, Pei demanded a method of glass production that resulted in clear panes. The pyramid was constructed at the same time as the subterranean levels below, which caused difficulties during the building stages. As they worked, construction teams came upon an abandoned set of rooms containing 25,000 historical items; these were incorporated into the rest of the structure to add a new exhibition zone.[121]

The new Louvre courtyard was opened to the public on 14 October 1988, and the Pyramid entrance was opened the following March. By this time, public opinion had softened on the new installation; a poll found a fifty-six percent approval rating for the pyramid, with twenty-three percent still opposed. The newspaper Le Figaro had vehemently criticized Pei's design, but later celebrated the tenth anniversary of its magazine supplement at the pyramid.[122] Prince Charles of Britain surveyed the new site with curiosity, and declared it "marvelous, very exciting".[123] A writer in Le Quotidien de Paris wrote: "The much-feared pyramid has become adorable."[123] The experience was exhausting for Pei, but also rewarding. "After the Louvre," he said later, "I thought no project would be too difficult."[124] The Louvre Pyramid has become Pei's most famous structure. [125]

Meyerson Symphony Center and Bank of China

The opening of the Louvre Pyramid coincided with four other projects on which Pei had been working, prompting architecture critic Paul Goldberger to declare 1989 "the year of Pei" in The New York Times.[126] It was also the year in which Pei's firm changed its name to Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, to reflect the increasing stature and prominence of his associates. At the age of seventy-two, Pei had begun thinking about retirement, but continued working long hours to see his designs come to light.[127]

A beige cube rises at an angle around a half-cone made of glass and steel. In front, a square archway overlooks a stone courtyard.
Although he usually designed entirely by hand, Pei used a computer to "confirm the spaces" for the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center.[128]

One of the projects took Pei back to Dallas, Texas, to design the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. The project was somewhat controversial at the start, since some community members felt there were more urgent needs in the city. Still, city leaders yearned to create a center for musical arts that could rival the best halls of Europe. The organizing committee contacted 45 architects, but Pei did not respond, concerned that his work on City Hall had left a negative impression. One of his colleagues from that project, however, insisted that he meet with the committee. He did and, although it would be his first concert hall, they voted unanimously to offer him the commission. As one put it: "We were convinced that we would get the world's greatest architect putting his best foot forward."[129]

The project presented a variety of specific challenges. Because its main purpose was the presentation of live music, the hall needed a design focused not only on public access and exterior aesthetics, but also acoustics. To this end, a professional sound technician was hired to design the interior. He proposed a shoebox auditorium, based on classic designs used for top European symphony halls. Pei drew inspiration for his adjustments from the designs of the German architect Johann Balthasar Neumann, especially the Basilica of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. He also sought to incorporate some of the panache of the Paris Opéra designed by Charles Garnier.[130]

Pei's design placed the rigid shoebox at an angle to the surrounding street grid, connected at the north end to a long rectangular office building, and cut through the middle with an assortment of circles and cones. The plan was risky, and Pei himself admitted that he did not completely know how it would come together. "I can imagine only 60 percent of the space in this building," he said during the early stages. "The rest will be as surprising to me as to everyone else."[131] As the project developed, costs rose steadily and some sponsors considered withdrawing their support. Billionaire tycoon Ross Perot made a donation of US$10 million, on the condition that it be named in honor of Morton H. Meyerson, the longtime patron of the arts in Dallas.[132]

The building opened to significant praise, especially with regard to the acoustics. After attending a week of performances in the hall, a music critic for The New York Times enthused about the experience and congratulated the architects. One of Pei's associates told him during a party before the opening that the symphony hall was "a very mature building"; he smiled and replied: "Ah, but did I have to wait this long?"[133]

A tall tower coated with reflective glass and steel X patterns rises over trees and smaller buildings.
Pei felt that his design for the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong needed to reflect "the aspirations of the Chinese people".[134]

Perhaps even more personally important for Pei was a new offer from the Chinese government, which had come in 1982. With an eye toward the Transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong from the British in 1997, authorities in China sought Pei's aid on a new tower for the local branch of the Bank of China. The Chinese government was preparing for a new wave of engagement with the outside world, and saw the tower as a change to demonstrate its economic strength. Given the elder Pei's history with the bank before the Communist takeover, government officials visited the 89-year-old man in New York to gain approval for his son's involvement. When they finished, Pei spoke with his father at length about the proposal. Although the architect still ached from the experience with Fragrant Hill, he agreed to accept the commission.[135]

The proposed site in Hong Kong's Central District for the tower was less than ideal; a tangle of highways lined it on three sides. The area had also been home to a headquarters for Japanese military police during World War II, and was notorious for prisoner torture. The small parcel of land made a tall tower necessary, but Pei had usually shied away from such projects; in Hong Kong especially, the skyscrapers lacked any real architectural character. Lacking inspiration and unsure of how to approach the building, Pei took a weekend vacation to the family home in Katonah, New York. There he found himself experimenting with a bundle of sticks until he happened upon a cascading sequence.[136]

The design that Pei developed for the Bank of China Tower was not only unique in appearance, but also sound enough to pass the city's rigorous standards for wind-resistance. The tower was planned around a visible truss structure, which distributed stress to the four corners of the base. Using the reflective glass that had become something of a trademark, Pei organized the facade around a series of boxed X shapes. At the top, he designed the roofs at sloping angles to match the rising aesthetic of the building. Some influential advocates of feng shui in Hong Kong and China criticized the design, but Pei and government officials responded with token adjustments.[137]

As the tower neared completion, Pei was shocked to witness the government's massacre of unarmed civilians at the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. He wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times titled "China Won't Ever Be the Same", in which he said that the killings "tore the heart out of a generation that carries the hope for the future of the country".[138] The massacre deeply disturbed his entire family, and he declared that "China is besmirched."[138]

Museum projects

A grey tiled building rises over a lake, with a cylinder set on a narrow pole, and a sloping glass wall on one end.
One staff member sympathized with Pei's frustrations with the lack of organization at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, admitting that he was "operating in a vacuum".[139]

As the 1990s began, Pei transitioned into a role of decreased involvement with his firm. The staff had begun to shrink, and Pei wanted to dedicate himself to smaller projects allowing for more creativity. Before he made this change, however, he set to work on his last major project as active partner: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Considering his work on such bastions of high culture as the Louvre and US National Gallery, some critics were surprised by his association with what many considered a tribute to low culture. The sponsors of the hall, however, sought Pei for specifically this reason; they wanted the building to have an aura of respectability from the beginning. As in the past, Pei accepted the commission in part because of the unique challenge it presented.[140]

Using a glass wall for the entrance, similar in appearance to his Louvre pyramid, Pei coated the exterior of the main building in white metal, and placed a large cylinder on a narrow perch to serve as a performance space. The combination of off-centered wraparounds and angled walls was, Pei said, designed to provide "a sense of tumultuous youthful energy, rebelling, flailing about".[141]

The building opened in 1995, and was received with moderate praise. The New York Times called it "a fine building", but Pei was among those who felt disappointed with the results. The museum's early beginnings in New York combined with an unclear mission to create a fuzzy understanding among project leaders for precisely what was needed. As one staff member put it: "Nobody knew exactly what the building should be."[139] Although the city of Cleveland benefited greatly from the new tourist attraction, Pei was unhappy with it. "It is not one of my proudest achievements", he said later.[139]

At the same time, Pei designed a new museum for Luxembourg, the Musée d'art moderne Grand-Duc Jean, commonly known as the Mudam. Drawing from the original shape of the Fort Thüngen walls where the museum was located, Pei planned to remove a portion of the original foundation. Public resistance to the historical loss forced a revision of his plan, however, and the project was nearly abandoned. The size of the building was halved, and set back from the original wall segments to preserve the foundation. Pei was disappointed with the alterations, but remained involved in the building process even during construction.[142]

In 1995 Pei was hired to design an extension to the Deutsches Historisches Museum, or German Historical Museum in Berlin. Returning to the challenge of the East Building of the US National Gallery, Pei worked to combine a modernist approach with a classical main structure. He described the glass cylinder addition as a "beacon",[143] and topped it with a glass roof to allow plentiful sunlight inside. Pei had difficulty working with German government officials on the project; their utilitarian approach clashed with his passion for aesthetics. "They thought I was nothing but trouble", he said.[144]

A curving circular tunnel opens to reveal a building with a tall sloping roof and a circular window in the front door.
Pei's tunnel through a mountain leading to the Miho Museum was partly inspired by a story from fourth-century Chinese poet Tao Yuanming.[145]

Pei also worked at this time on two projects for a new Japanese religious movement called Shinji Shumeikai. He was approached by the movement's spiritual leader, Kaishu Koyama, who impressed the architect with her sincerity and willingness to give him significant artistic freedom. One of the buildings was a bell tower, designed to resemble the bachi used when playing traditional instruments like the shamisen. Pei was unfamiliar with the movement's beliefs, but explored them in order to represent something meaningful in the tower. As he said: "It was a search for the sort of expression that is not at all technical."[146]

The experience was rewarding for Pei, and agreed immediately to work with the group again. The new project was the Miho Museum, to display Koyama's collection of tea ceremony artifacts. Pei visited the site in Shiga Prefecture, and during their conversations convinced Koyama to expand her collection. She conducted a global search and acquired more than 300 items showcasing the history of the Silk Road.[147]

One major challenge was the approach to the museum. The Japanese team proposed a winding road up the mountain, not unlike the approach to the NCAR building in Colorado. Instead, Pei ordered a hole cut through a nearby mountain, connected to a major road via a bridge suspended from ninety-six steel cables and supported by a post set into the mountain. The museum itself was built into the mountain, with 80 percent of the building underground.[148]

When designing the exterior, Pei borrowed from the tradition of Japanese temples, particularly those found in nearby Kyoto. He created a concise spaceframe wrapped into French limestone and covered with a glass roof. Pei also oversaw specific decorative details, including a bench in the entrance lobby, carved from a 350-year-old keyaki tree. Because of Koyama's considerable wealth, money was rarely considered an obstacle; estimates at the time of completion put the cost of the project at US$350 million.[149]

Like the belltower before it, the Miho Museum, which opened in 1997, was immensely rewarding for Pei. Neither the Fragrant Hill Hotel nor the Bank of China project had provided the sort of artistic satisfaction he had hope for, but Pei found a soothing happiness in his work for Shinji Shumeikai. "I had not been able to put my own Asian education to work until Miho," he said later. "In some ways, I felt I was coming home."[150]

A building, made up of beige rectangular boxes arranged at alternating angles, and decorated with two slender pillars, overlooks a bay.
During his research for the Museum of Islamic Art, Pei said, he needed to "grasp the essence of Islamic architecture".[151]

Throughout the first decade of the 2000s, Pei designed a variety of buildings, including the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and the Suzhou Museum near his childhood home. He also served as lead architect for the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar. Although it was originally planned for the corniche road along Doha Bay, Pei convinced project coordinators to build a new island to provide the needed space. He then spent six months touring the region and surveying mosques in Spain, Syria, and Tunisia. He was especially impressed with the elegant simplicity of the Mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo.[152]

Once again, Pei sought to combine new design elements with the classical aesthetic most appropriate for the location of the building. The rectangular boxes rotate evenly to create a subtle movement, with small arched windows at regular intervals into the limestone exterior. The building has become – in the words of Artinfo – "an instant landmark".[152] The museum's coordinators were pleased with the project; its official website describes its "true splendour unveiled in the sunlight", and speaks of "the shades of colour and the interplay of shadows paying tribute to the essence of Islamic architecture".[151]

Style and influence

Pei's style is described as thoroughly modernist, with significant cubist themes.[153] He is known for combining traditional architectural elements with progressive designs based on simple geometric patterns. As one critic writes: "Pei has been aptly described as combining a classical sense of form with a contemporary mastery of method."[154] In 2000, biographer Carter Wiseman called Pei "the most distinguished member of his Late-Modernist generation still in practice".[155] At the same time, Pei himself rejects simple dichotomies of architectural trends. He once said: "The talk about modernism versus post-modernism is unimportant. It's a side issue. An individual building, the style in which it is going to be designed and built, is not that important. The important thing, really, is the community. How does it affect life?"[156]

As his later work demonstrates, Pei has been keenly interested in visual arts for years, and is praised for his involvement with their promotion.[157] He also finds connections to classical music, and drew praise for linking architecture with music in the Meyerson Symphony Hall project.[158] As Pei has said: "Architecture and music are both constructions of the mind. They need structure to give them form, which becomes the physical evidence of an idea.... Music and architecture both engage the senses with form, structure, color, and space."[158]

Pei's work is celebrated throughout the world of architecture. His colleague John Portman once told him: "Just once, I'd like to do something like the East Building."[159] But this originality does not always bring large financial reward; as Pei replied to the successful architect: "Just once, I'd like to make the kind of money you do."[159] His concepts, moreover, are too individualized and dependent on context to give rise to a particular school of design. Pei refers to his own "analytical approach" when explaining the lack of a "Pei School". "For me," he said, "the important distinction is between a stylistic approach to the design; and an analytical approach giving the process of due consideration to time, place, and purpose.... My analytical approach requires a full understanding of the three essential elements ... to arrive at an ideal balance among them."[160]

Pei has won – in the words of his biographer – "every award of any consequence in his art",[155] including the Arnold Brunner Award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1963), the Gold Medal for Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1979), the AIA Gold Medal (1979), the first Praemium Imperiale for Architecture from the Japan Art Association (1989), the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, and the 2010 Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects. In 1983 he was awarded the Pritzker Prize, sometimes called the Nobel Prize of architecture. In its citation, the jury said: "Ieoh Ming Pei has given this century some of its most beautiful interior spaces and exterior forms.... His versatility and skill in the use of materials approach the level of poetry."[2] The prize was accompanied by a US$100,000 award, which Pei used to create a scholarship for Chinese students to study architecture in the US, on the condition that they return to China to work.[161]

See also


  1. ^ Wiseman, p. 11; Diamonstein, p. 145.
  2. ^ a b "Jury Citation". The Pritzker Architecture Prize. 1983. The Hyatt Foundation. Retrieved on 26 December 2009.
  3. ^ a b von Boehm, p. 18.
  4. ^ Wiseman, pp. 29–30; von Boehm, p. 17.
  5. ^ Wiseman, pp. 31–32; von Boehm, p. 25.
  6. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 31.
  7. ^ Wiseman, p. 31.
  8. ^ a b Wiseman, pp. 31–33.
  9. ^ von Boehm, p. 22.
  10. ^ von Boehm, p. 21.
  11. ^ von Boehm, pp. 21–22.
  12. ^ von Boehm, p. 25.
  13. ^ von Boehm, p. 26.
  14. ^ von Boehm, pp. 33–34.
  15. ^ a b Wiseman, p. 34.
  16. ^ Wiseman, pp. 33–34.
  17. ^ von Boehm, p. 34.
  18. ^ Wiseman, p. 35.
  19. ^ von Boehm, p. 36.
  20. ^ von Boehm, p. 36; Wiseman, p. 36.
  21. ^ a b c von Boehm, p. 40.
  22. ^ von Boehm, pp. 40–41. Pei used the term "propaganda", which he believed to be value-neutral; his advisers disapproved.
  23. ^ Wiseman, p. 39; von Boehm, p. 36–37.
  24. ^ Quoted in von Boehm, p. 42; a slightly different wording appears in Wiseman, p. 39: "If you know how to build a building, you know how to destroy it."
  25. ^ von Boehm, p. 42.
  26. ^ Wiseman, pp. 41–43; von Boehm, pp. 37–40.
  27. ^ von Boehm, p. 37.
  28. ^ Wiseman, p. 42.
  29. ^ a b Quoted in Wiseman, p., 44.
  30. ^ Wiseman, p. 45.
  31. ^ a b Quoted in Wiseman, p. 48.
  32. ^ von Boehm, p. 49.
  33. ^ Wiseman, pp. 48–49.
  34. ^ Wiseman, p. 51.
  35. ^ Wiseman, p. 52.
  36. ^ Wiseman, pp. 53–54.
  37. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 61.
  38. ^ Wiseman, pp. 57–58.
  39. ^ a b von Boehm, p. 52.
  40. ^ Wiseman, pp. 60–62.
  41. ^ Wiseman, pp. 62–64.
  42. ^ Wiseman, p. 67.
  43. ^ von Boehm, p. 51.
  44. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 67.
  45. ^ Wiseman, pp. 66–68.
  46. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 69.
  47. ^ Wiseman, pp. 69–71.
  48. ^ a b von Boehm, p. 60.
  49. ^ von Boehm, p. 59.
  50. ^ Wiseman, pp. 75–76.
  51. ^ Wiseman, p. 80.
  52. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 79.
  53. ^ Wiseman, pp. 73, 86, and 90; von Boehm, p. 61.
  54. ^ Wiseman, p. 94.
  55. ^ Wiseman, pp. 91 and 74.
  56. ^ History. 2009. New College of Florida. Accessed on 12 November 2009.
  57. ^ Wiseman, pp. 96–98.
  58. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 98.
  59. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 99.
  60. ^ Wiseman, pp. 95 and 100.
  61. ^ a b von Boehm, p. 56.
  62. ^ Wiseman, pp. 99–101.
  63. ^ Wiseman, pp. 102–113.
  64. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 113.
  65. ^ Wiseman, pp. 115–116.
  66. ^ Wiseman, p. 119.
  67. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 125.
  68. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 123.
  69. ^ Wiseman, pp. 121–123.
  70. ^ Wiseman, p. 125.
  71. ^ Wiseman, pp. 127–135.
  72. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 136.
  73. ^ Wiseman, pp. 136–137.
  74. ^ Wiseman, pp. 140 and 145.
  75. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 149.
  76. ^ Wiseman, p. 147.
  77. ^ Wiseman, p. 145.
  78. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 150.
  79. ^ Wiseman, pp. 149–150.
  80. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 153.
  81. ^ Wiseman, pp. 155–161.
  82. ^ Wiseman, pp. 164–165.
  83. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 181.
  84. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 163.
  85. ^ Wiseman, p. 179–180.
  86. ^ von Boehm, p. 65.
  87. ^ Wiseman, pp. 177–178.
  88. ^ a b Quoted in Wiseman, p. 182.
  89. ^ von Boehm, p. 68.
  90. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 183.
  91. ^ von Boehm, p. 71.
  92. ^ Wiseman, p. 189.
  93. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 193.
  94. ^ Wiseman, pp. 189–190.
  95. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 192.
  96. ^ Wiseman, pp. 192–193.
  97. ^ Wiseman, pp. 201–203.
  98. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 205.
  99. ^ Wiseman, pp. 204–205.
  100. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 206.
  101. ^ Wiseman, pp. 206–207.
  102. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 211.
  103. ^ Wiseman, pp. 211–216.
  104. ^ Wiseman, pp. 222–224.
  105. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 227.
  106. ^ Wiseman, pp. 226–227.
  107. ^ a b von Boehm, p. 84.
  108. ^ Wiseman, p. 232.
  109. ^ Wiseman, p. 231.
  110. ^ Balzac, p. 53.
  111. ^ Wiseman, p. 233; von Boehm, p. 77.
  112. ^ Wiseman, p. 234.
  113. ^ Wiseman, pp. 235–236.
  114. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 240.
  115. ^ Wiseman, pp. 249–250.
  116. ^ a b Quoted in Wiseman, p. 249.
  117. ^ von Boehm, p. 80.
  118. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 250.
  119. ^ von Boehm, p. 85.
  120. ^ Wiseman, pp. 251–252.
  121. ^ Wiseman, p. 257.
  122. ^ Wiseman, pp. 255–259.
  123. ^ a b Quoted in Wiseman, p. 259.
  124. ^ von Boehm, p. 90.
  125. ^ Ching, Francis; Jarxombek, Mark (2007). A Global History of Architecture. Prakash, Vikramaditya. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.. p. 742. ISBN 0471268925.  
  126. ^ Goldberger, Paul (September 17, 1989). "ARCHITECTURE VIEW; A Year of Years for the High Priest of Modernism". The New York Times. Retrieved January 4, 2010.  
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  128. ^ Wiseman, p. 272.
  129. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 267.
  130. ^ Wiseman, pp. 269–270.
  131. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 272.
  132. ^ Wiseman, pp. 273–274.
  133. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 286.
  134. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 288.
  135. ^ Wiseman, pp. 286–287.
  136. ^ Wiseman, pp. 287–288.
  137. ^ Wiseman, pp. 289–291.
  138. ^ a b Quoted in Wiseman, p. 294.
  139. ^ a b c Quoted in Wiseman, p. 307.
  140. ^ Wiseman, pp. 303–306.
  141. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 306.
  142. ^ Wiseman, pp. 311–313.
  143. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 315.
  144. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 316.
  145. ^ von Boehm, pp. 99–100.
  146. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 300.
  147. ^ Wiseman, pp. 317–319.
  148. ^ Wiseman, pp. 318–320.
  149. ^ Wiseman, pp. 320–322.
  150. ^ Quoted in Wiseman, p. 322.
  151. ^ a b "The Architect: Introduction". Museum of Islamic Art. Retrieved on 26 December 2009.
  152. ^ a b Byles, Jeff. "Qatar's Crown Jewel". Artinfo. 1 November 2008. Retrieved on 26 December 2009.
  153. ^ Wiseman, p. 11; von Boehm, pp. 45–46.
  154. ^ Heyer, p. 309.
  155. ^ a b Wiseman, p. 323.
  156. ^ Quoted in Diamonstein, p. 145.
  157. ^ Diamonstein, p. 153.
  158. ^ a b von Boehm, p. 28.
  159. ^ a b Quoted in Wiseman, p. 215.
  160. ^ von Boehm, p. 113.
  161. ^ "I. M. Pei: Biography". Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. Retrieved on 26 December 2009.


  • Balzac, Honoré de. The Works of Honoré de Balzac. Vol XI. Poor Relations: Cousin Betty and Cousin Pons. Trans. James Waring. Philadelphia: Avil Publishing Company, 1901. OCLC 9435435.
  • Diamonstein, Barbaralee. American Architecture Now. New York: Rizzoli, 1980. ISBN 0-8478-0329-5.
  • Heyer, Paul. Architects on Architecture: New Directions in America. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1993. ISBN 0-442-01751-0.
  • von Boehm, Gero. Conversations with I.M. Pei: Light is the Key. Munich: Prestel, 2000. ISBN 3-7913-2176-5.
  • Wiseman, Carter. I.M. Pei: A Profile in American Architecture. New York: H.N. Abrams, 2001. ISBN 0-8109-3477-9.

External links

Simple English

Ieoh Ming Pei
Born April 26, 1917 (1917-04-26) (age 93)
Guangzhou (Canton), People's Republic of China
Nationality American
Awards AIA Gold Medal

Ieoh Ming Pei (born April 26, 1917) is a Chinese American architect. Pei has been an important name in his field, with his buildings built all over the world.

[[File:|thumb|left|Louvre was designed by I.M. Pei]]

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