Prominent American architect IM Pei leaves a huge legacy of work

Brunilde Fioravanti
Mag 18, 2019

Famed architect Ieoh Ming Pei, commonly known as I.M. Pei, died Wednesday, a spokesman at his NY architecture firm said.

Chinese-born Pei, who worked mostly in the United States, was the mastermind behind the controversial redevelopment of the Louvre Museum in Paris in the 1980s. (And by a Chinese-American architect, no less!) His John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston was, for years, mired in controversy, and he considered the construction of the Fragrant Hill Hotel outside Beijing - one of the first buildings designed by an global architect in reform-era China - to be one of the most painful experiences of his professional life.

He was also behind NY projects such as the Silver Towers of University Village on the West Side, Kips Bay Towers on the East Side and the 11-story building for the Mission of Korea on East 45th Street near UN Headquarters.

Pei moved to the US with his family in 1935, and shortly after receiving a master's degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, he joined William Zeckendorf's company, where he worked for seven years, before starting his own firm. "His tact and patience have enabled him to draw together peoples of disparate interests and disciplines to create a harmonious environment". He topped it off with a transparent tent-like structure, which was "open - like the music", he said.

Visitors tour the new Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, Wednesday, April 1, 2009.

A ceiling inside the Bank of China Tower, designed by I. M. Pei and L.C Pei of I.M Pei and Partners, in Hong Kong in 2015.

"The design of this building is in itself a very Chinese way of thinking about architecture, and a very innovative way of trying to put Chinese architecture within the dialogue of western architectural theory and practice", said Andy Xiong, an architecture student.

During his life, he collected at least half of the American awards for architecture, including the Pritzker Prize, which is called the Nobel Prize of architecture.

However, he continued to work on projects - including museums in Luxembourg, Qatar and his ancestral home of Suzhou.

Pei's father was a banker, his mother an artist. He went on to build his own firm, I. M. Pei & Associates, which he set up in 1955.

The desert-toned building, inspired by the 13th-century Mosque of Ahmad ibn Tulun in Cairo, incorporates geometric patterns and is lit by reflected light entering from above. His forms were recognizably derived from such great architects as Le Corbusier and Louis I. Kahn, though he filtered them through a unique artistic sensibility. His thesis projects at MIT and Harvard - a mobile media and recreation center for rural China and a modern art museum for Shanghai, respectively - signaled his intention to return to his native country.

However, World War II and the revolution in China prevented him from going back.

In 1948, New York City real estate developer William Zeckendorf hired Pei as his director of architecture. He remained based in New York City. Three years later he became Chancellor of the Academy, the first architect to hold the position. Among the firm's accomplishments are the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

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