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A Look Back on the Prestigious Career of I.M. Pei

I.M. Pei, the renowned architect behind landmarks such as the Louvre Pyramid and Hong Kong’s Bank of China Tower, passed away Wednesday night in New York at the age of 102. A highly ambitious and adventurous visionary, Pei was known for blending inspiration from East and West and contrasting classic designs with modern twists.

In celebration of his life’s work, Singulart takes a look back at just some of Pei’s many accomplishments over his outstanding career.

Born in Guangzhou, China, and raised between Hong Kong and Shanghai, Pei came to the U.S. at the start of WWII in 1935. He studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Invested in modern design from the start, Pei was dissatisfied with both schools’ focus on the architecture of the Beaux-Arts period and spent much of his free time researching emerging, modernist architects. After graduating from MIT, he Pei was accepted to the Harvard Graduate School of Design. During his time at Harvard, Pei met and became friends with the Bauhaus architects Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado was completed in 1967.
The National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado was completed in 1967.

Pei’s big break came with the Mesa Laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, which he designed in 1961. Soon after, Pei was chosen to be the lead architect for Dallas City Hall, completed in 1978, and the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC built that same year. The East building was built in Pei’s signature modern, geometric style and contrasted with the gallery’s West building which had been designed in the neoclassical style by John Russell Pope.

Dallas City Hall was completed in 1978.
Dallas City Hall was completed in 1978. Image via Flickr.
The East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
The East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Image via National Gallery of Art.

Pei’s best known work is of course the glass pyramid which marks the primary entrance to the Louvre Museum in Paris. Situated in the courtyard of the former palace, the pyramid is strikingly juxtaposed with the Renaissance-style building. The pyramid, constructed in 1989, was initially met with criticism and considered too modern for the historic museum. Today, the pyramid is one of the most easily-recognized pieces of architecture in the world.

Some of I.M. Pei’s other notable projects include the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, the Miho Museum in Kyoto, and the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar. Pei’s overall style was decidedly modernist, with significant cubist themes and influences. He is known for combining traditional architectural principles with progressive flair often in the form of simple yet bold geometric patterns.

Miho Museum in Kyoto.
Miho Museum in Kyoto. Image by Jeffrey Friedl.

Pei was honored with a variety of prizes and awards for his work over the span of his prestigious career. He was awarded the AIA Gold Medal in 1979, the first Praemium Imperiale for Architecture in 1989, and the Pritzker Prize in 1983, sometimes called the Nobel Prize of architecture. He was also a fellow of The American Institute of Architects and a member of The Royal Institute of British Architects.

Pei is succeeded by his three children and several grandchildren. His architectural legacy is carried on by his sons, Chieng Chung and Li Chung, both Harvard Graduate School of Design alumni, and co-founders of the Pei Partnership Architects firm in New York.

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