Click on photos to enlarge.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ieoh Ming Pei

I.M. Pei peers over his pyramid
Designing and constructing a building of major architectural and historic importance is no task for the faint of heart.  Modifying a building of major architectural and historic importance is still more difficult, one might even say heroic. How does an architect handle a situation where an estimated 90% of those footing the bill hate what you've proposed? How do you deal with criticism couched in words such as "atrocity," "unfeasible," "architecturally risky," and "ruinous"? One critic wrote:  "I am surprised that one would go looking for a Chinese architect in America to deal with the historic heart of the capital of France." That was the uncomfortable position the Chinese architect found himself in proposing a gigantic glass pyramid as the focal point and new entrance for Paris' venerable Musée du Louvre. And despite the affront to French nationalism evident in the writer's rant, Ieoh Ming Pei, better known simply by his initials, I.M. Pei, countered the criticism the old fashioned way, by winning friends and influencing people. Building a full-scale model made of cables in the middle of the Louvre's Cour Napoleon also helped.
In retrospect, it's hard to see what all the fuss was about.
I.M. Pei is, indeed Chinese-American, born in 1917 in Canton, China, raised in Shanghai and Hong Kong.  He's 95 years old, an "old school" architect who defiantly rejected the "old school" of Beaux Arts design he found dominating schools of architecture in American when he came here to study in  1935, first to the University of Pennsylvania then to M.I.T.; so much so that he switched his major to engineering. Upon graduating, he found Harvard's Graduate School of Design much more to his liking. There also he found an attractive landscape architect, Eileen Loo, quite to his liking. He married her and raised a family of four children, two of whom became architects themselves. It was also at GSD that he also met the Bauhaus refugees from Germany, Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, and came to admire the French architectural icon Le Corbusier. He was also impressed with America's Frank Lloyd Wright, even going so far as to journey half-way across the continent just to meet him. However, when the notoriously self-centered Wright kept him waiting for two hours, Pei left in disgust.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Boston, 1979, I.M. Pei
All these influences came together to create an architect not so much known for the "Pei look" but for his "analytical approach" in which essential elements of he building are combined with basic geometrical shapes--cubes, cylinders, pyramids--to enhance the building's "community." Pei's first big break was in being chosen by Jackie Kennedy as the architect for the Kennedy Presidential Library in 1970. I.M. Pei and Associates soon after landed commissions for the East Building of Washington's National Gallery of Art, New York's Jacob K. Javitts Convention Center, the Bank of China tower in Hong Kong, and of course, the infamous Louvre pyramid. One of his last major projects was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Pei bridges the transition between modernism and postmodern design though such labels mean little to him. Having won virtually every architectural award there is, in an age when major architects can often count their major projects on the fingers of one hand, Pei's list of works from 1951 through 2009 number well over sixty.
Cleveland's lakefront Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1995, I.M. Pei

No comments:

Post a Comment