Pillar of modern architecture I.M. Pei dies at 102


Sat, May 18, 2019 - Page 1

I.M. Pei (貝聿銘), the pre-eminent US architect who forged a distinct brand of modern building design with his sharp lines and stark structures, has died in New York, his sons’ architecture firm said on Thursday.

He was 102 years old.

From the controversial Louvre Pyramid in Paris to the landmark Bank of China tower in Hong Kong, Chinese-born Pei was the mastermind behind works seen as embracing modernity tempered by a grounding in history.

The New York Times, citing Pei’s son Li Chung (貝禮中), said that the architect had died overnight on Wednesday into Thursday.

“Contemporary architects tend to impose modernity on something. There is a certain concern for history, but it’s not very deep,” I.M. Pei, with his owlish round-rimmed glasses, told the New York Times in a 2008 interview.

“I understand that times have changed, we have evolved, but I don’t want to forget the beginning,” he said. “A lasting architecture has to have roots.”

His work earned him the 1983 Pritzker Prize, considered architecture’s Nobel. Of his nearly 50 designs in the US and around the world, more than half won major awards.

Born in China in 1917, banker’s son Ieoh Ming Pei moved to the US at 17 to study architecture, receiving an undergraduate degree in the field from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1940.

He then enrolled in Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, where he received a master’s degree in architecture in 1946. He became a naturalized US citizen in 1954.

In one standout undertaking, he deftly inserted into the monumental structures of the capital of his adopted country the modern angles of the East Building of the National Gallery of Art, which opened in 1978.

The stunning concrete and glass structure features huge mirrored pyramids and a 15m waterfall.

Then-French president Francois Mitterrand was so impressed that he in 1984 hired I.M. Pei to build a glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre.

The project was deeply controversial in Paris and I.M. Pei endured a roasting from critics before the giant glass structure opened in 1989, but his creation is now an icon of the French capital.

“I received many angry glances in the streets of Paris,” I.M. Pei later said, adding that “after the Louvre, I thought no project would be too difficult.”