I.M. Pei made a name for himself in the world of architecture with his modern designs branded with sharp lines and stark structures. The famous architect died in New York at the age of 102, as announced his sons’ architecture firm Pei Partnership Architects.
Some of the Chinese-born Pei’s best-known, and controversial, works include the Louve Pyramid in Paris and the Bank of China tower in Hong Kong. With structures like these, Pei always embraced modernity tempered by a grounding in history.
“Contemporary architects tend to impose modernity on something. There is a certain concern for history but it’s not very deep,” said Pei in a 2008 interview, “I understand that times have changed, we have evolved. But I don’t want to forget the beginning. A lasting architecture has to have roots.”
Ieoh Ming Pei came from China to the United States at the age of 17 to study architecture, getting a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1940. He received his master’s degree from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design in 1946, and a naturalized American citizen in 1954.
Many projects that Pei undertook featured graceful combinations of geometric planes, reflecting the modernism he was often associated with. These include the:
- East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
- Glass Pyramid of the Louvre Museum in Paris, France
- Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio
- Miho Museum of Shigo in Japan
- Morton Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, Texas
- John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachussets
- Four Seasons Hotel in Manhattan, New York
- Fragrant Hill Hotel in Beijing, China
At the time, the Louvre pyramid was a big controversy in Paris, and Pei endured long roastings from critics before the famous glass pyramid opened in 1989; it is now an icon of Paris, and the Louvre remains the most visited museum in the world.
One of Pei’s final commissions was the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar in 2008. Even when he considered himself an Islamic art novice, he incorporated the desert-toned building with geometric patterns and is lit by reflected light entering from above.
In 1983, Pei was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, his area’s equivalent of the Nobel. He dedicated the $100,000 prize money to setting up a scholarship fund for Chinese students to study architecture in the United States, provided they do their practice back home.
Pei is one of 12 naturalized US citizens then-president Ronald Reagan awarded the Medal of Liberty in 1986, and in 1988 received the Medal of Freedom from the late George H.W. Bush, being elected an Honorary Academician of the Royal Academy of Arts in London that same year.
“His versatility and skill in the use of materials approach the level of poetry,” said the Pritzker committee upon awarding him, “His tact and patience have enabled him to draw together peoples of disparate interests and disciplines to create a harmonious environment.”
Story and photos from AFP.