Renowned Architect I.M. Pei Dies at 102

May 22nd, 2019 | Category: Featured News, Industry News

I.M. Pei, co-founder of the international architectural firm, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, and the architect behind the famous glass pyramids at the Louvre in Paris, died May 16. He was 102.

I.M. Pei devant la Pyramide © Marc Ribound; image MUSÉE DU LOUVRE’S PRESS ROOM

In addition to the glass pyramids, some of Pei’s notable works include an addition to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the National Center of Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. Two of his last major projects were the Museum of Islamic Art in 2008, located off the waterfront in Doha, Qatar, and the Macau Science Center, in China, which opened in 2009.

“I.M. Pei’s prolific contribution to architecture spans the globe and two centuries. His life’s work is represented across continents, gifting a series of modernist masterpieces to cities from Hong Kong and Paris to Colorado and latterly Souzhou, his childhood home,” says Royal Institute of British Architects president Ben Derbyshire. “It is a rarity for one architect to have such a vast portfolio of exceptional international work, but he will be remembered for much more than the robust, geometrical yet elegantly civic architecture. He sought out Bauhaus émigrés Walter Gropius, and Marcel Breuer, who taught him at Harvard, and practiced a humane modernism that touched generations of architects and will continue to do so.”

According to the Associated Press (AP), “His buildings added elegance to landscapes worldwide with their powerful geometric shapes and grand spaces. Among them are the striking steel and glass Bank of China skyscraper in Hong Kong and the Fragrant Hill Hotel near Beijing.”

Ieoh Ming Pei (YEE-oh ming) was born April 26, 1917, in Guangzhou, China. He came to the U.S. when he was 17 to study architecture. He received his bachelor’s degree from MIT in 1940 and his master’s from Harvard in 1946, where he remained as an assistant professor until 1948, when he became the director of architecture for Webb & Knapp, a New York real estate development company.

Pei established his own architectural firm, originally known as I.M. Pei & Associates, in 1955 (he became a U.S. citizen in 1954) with colleagues Henry Cobb and Eason Leonard. The firm eventually became Pei Cobb Freed & Partners in 1989.

According to the AP, “No challenge seemed to be too great for Pei, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which sits on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. Pei, who admitted he was just catching up with the Beatles, researched the roots of rock ‘n’ roll and came up with an array of contrasting shapes for the museum. He topped it off with a transparent tent-like structure, which was ‘open — like the music,’ he said.”

He received the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1979, and won the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1983. In 1988 he received a National Medal of Arts, and in 1992 President George H.W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In addition, 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the Pyramid at the Louvre. According to a statement from the museum’s press office, “From its inauguration on March 30, 1989, the Pyramid took little time to become recognized as a masterpiece, held across the world as being iconic of both the Louvre and the city of Paris … The monument certainly attracts many admirers and to accommodate for growing visitor numbers—a record-breaking 10.2 million people passed through the museum in 2018; twice as many as when the Grand Louvre was first unveiled to the public—I.M. Pei continued to advise on ways to improve the facilities and visiting conditions, allowing us to develop a renovation project initiated in 2016.”

Pei officially retired in 1990 but continued to work on projects. Two of his sons, Li Chung Pei and Chien Chung Pei, former members of their father’s firm, formed Pei Partnership Architects in 1992.

Pei’s wife, Eileen, who he married in 1942, died in 2014. A son, T’ing Chung, died in 2003. He is survived by sons Chien Chung Pei and Li Chung Pei, and a daughter, Liane.

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