Architects pay tribute to modernist icon IM Pei
Reflecting on his global legacy
Architect IM Pei, the mastermind behind iconic buildings like the Louvre pyramid in Paris and the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, died on 16 June.
Born in China in 1917, Pei moved to the United States in the 1930s where he studied architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After graduating, the second world war led him to postpone his plans to return home. In 1942, he enrolled at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, where he studied under Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School.
Pei launched his career with a bold move into real estate at the firm Webb & Knapp, developing an architectural vision that would single him out as a modernist icon in his own right.
More than half of his designs received major architecture awards in his lifetime, and he received the RIBA Royal Gold Medal for architecture in 2010.
The breadth of his eight-decade career is clear in landmarks and museums around the world. His celebrated designs include the East Building of Washington’s National Gallery of Art, Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar.
Tributes point to Pei’s cosmopolitan approach at the heart of his practice. He was committed to discovering new cultures and ideas in order to create buildings that would resonate in their context.
"Islam was one religion I did not know," Pei told the Times newspaperafter completing the Museum of Islamic Art, which opened in 2008. "So, I studied the life of Muhammad. I went to Egypt and Tunisia."
He initially turned down the commission to design the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but changed his mind and travelled with the editor of Rolling Stone to discover the spirit of the music for himself.
The 1989 Louvre pyramid was arguably his most controversial work – mired in discontent when the designs were first revealed, it is now widely recognised as an icon of the French capital.
Architects and critics around the world have paid tribute to Pei’s life and work.
Dara Huang, founder of Design Haus Liberty, said: "The passing of I.M. Pei saddens me as much as it gives me hope. His Chinese roots, being a minority at Harvard University, later creating the world's finest architecture including The Louvre, The Bank of China Hong Kong, the John Hancock Building and Museum of Islamic Art… all form part of my education and memories.”
Architecture critic Paul Goldberger described Pei’s passing as "the end of an architectural era, truly". He tweeted: "It makes me feel a sense of nostalgia for the idea of a building as something to believe in.”
British architect Norman Foster said: "He is one of the greats and will surely be missed by us all. Yet, he leaves behind a formidable legacy that will continue to influence architects and designers for decades to come."