On May 16th, 2019 the world lost a piece of its past and a visionary, Ieoh Ming Pei or as he is more popularly known as I.M. Pei. I.M Pei died at the age of 102 but continues to live on, in his work and design philosophy. Moreover in a century where the world and architecture was being shaped by and for white men, Pei represented the birth of something different.
Pei was born on 26th April 1917 and spent most of his early childhood in Hong Kong. His family moved to Shanghai when he was 10 years old. When he lost his mother at the tender age of 13, Pei felt a sense of responsibility and placed the needs of others before his own he is noted as saying “The last thing she told me was to take care of brothers and sister, as the oldest son I was supposed to understand” (I.M. Pei, By Louise Chipley Slavicek)
Pei’s choice to study architecture is closely linked to his fascination with Shanghai’s first skyscraper the Park hotel, however his father was in stark opposition to his decision and resisted his plans to study in America. It seems almost impossible to imagine that this master would have considered anything else, and how many architectural marvels and conversations we would have been deprived of. Thankfully In 1935 Pei attended the University of Pennsylvania to study architecture but soon dropped out as he was more intrigued by modern architecture and found the schools Beaux-Arts style teaching methods too dry. He 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.
In 1983 Pei was chosen to a be a Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning architect I.M. Pei, the Jury citation reads as follow
“Ieoh Ming Pei has given this century some of its most beautiful interior spaces and exterior forms. Yet the significance of his work goes far beyond that. His concern has always been the surroundings in which his buildings rise.
He has refused to limit himself to a narrow range of architectural problems. His work over the past forty years includes not only palaces of industry, government and culture, but also moderate and low-income housing. His versatility and skill in the use of materials approach the level of poetry.
His tact and patience have enabled him to draw together peoples of disparate interests and disciplines to create a harmonious environment.”
1989 marked the birth of one of Pei’s most prolific works, the Pyramid in front of the Louvre. The debate surrounding this structure was dubbed the battle of the pyramid and began long before it’s unveiling. In its initial days the pyramid was seen as foreign object invading a historic space, however overtime it has grown to become the most identifiable features of the Louvre at par with the Mona Lisa.
I.M. Pei’s structures have received global recognition for the past three decades, beginning with the Mile High Center in Denver, Colorado in 1955, and most recently, the Fragrant Hill Hotel in Beijing, China.
Among his renowned are the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the West Wing of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the New York City Convention and Exhibition Center, the John F. Kennedy Library in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and the Texas Commerce Tower in Houston. His last works the Doha Islamic Museum is iconic with a manifestation of Islamic architecture in contemporary times.
Pei’s Contributions to the world are in numerous and the story of his life continues to inspire.