A Tribute to I.M. Pei

“Lets do it right. This is for the ages” – I. M. Pei, architect

Legendary architect, I.M. Pei (1917 – 2019)

When I.M. Pei passed on last Thursday at the age of 102, the architectural world lost one of its preeminent members. A Chinese-born American, Pei began his career working for a New York real-estate developer and ended it as one of the most revered architects in the world.

Two features are consistent in almost all of Pei’s architectural expressions: simple, clean geometry and a light-filled atrium which he viewed as a space to be loved by its occupants. As a focal point, both physically and visually, the atrium is the very essence of his idea of architectural celebration.

Pei’s early works include the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado (completed in 1967), the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse and the Des Moines Art Centre, both finished in 1968. They were the first in a series of museums he designed that include the East Building (1978), the avant-garde Louvre glass pyramid (1989) and perhaps a surprise for him, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland (1995) memorable for its huge glass tent, simple geometric forms and a cylindrical drum that evokes a record player. His museum oeuvre would culminate with other elegant constructions such as the Museum of Islamic Art, in Doha, Qatar, in 2008, a challenge Pei accepted with relish.

Pei’s interest in design apparently began when he was just 9 years old. His father had moved the family from Shanghai to Hong Kong to assume the head position at the Hong Kong branch of the Bank of China. The young Pei remembered being fascinated by the construction of a 25-storey hotel. “I couldn’t resist looking into the hole,” he recalled in 2007. “That’s when I knew I wanted to build.”

Selected works of I.M. Pei

Louvre Pyramid (1989). The central 21-meter-tall (70-foot) steel-framed, glass-walled pyramid at Louvre’s grand entrance was detested by many French critics but also won praise for successfully embracing modernity in a setting grounded in history.
Hongkong Shanghai Bank (1985). One of the most prominent skyscrapers on the Hong Kong skyline, the 72-storey building was the tallest in Asia when it was completed in 1989.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio (1995). Pei uses some of his signature forms, in particular the pyramid, stark angular planes, cantilevered spaces and white cladding for this museum sited on the shore of Lake Erie that would become a landmark in Cleveland’s waterfront precinct.
The Museum of Islamic Art, Doha (2008). Pei designed a five-storey minimalist building that incorporates the geometric aesthetics of the Islamic world. Inside the building, an atrium soars to a stainless steel domed ceiling above a grand staircase (see next photo)
A multi-faceted dome crowns the atrium of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha

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