After boarding a boat from Shanghai to San Francisco, Pei travelled by train to Philadelphia to attend the University of Philadelphia
Pei transferred to MIT in Massachusetts
Pei completes his first commercial building
A committee of Dallas citizens selected Pei to redesign City Hall in Dallas, Texas
Pei is awarded the Pritzker Prize for the design of the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
French President François Mitterrand commissioned Pei to design the glass pyramid entrance to the Louvre Museum
Construction for the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong began by Pei and L.C Pei of I.M Pei and Partners
Pei retired from full-time practice
I.M. Pei celebrated his 100th birthday on April 26, 2017. During his [still active] lifetime, he was married for over 70 years and fathered 4 children, two of whom are Harvard Graduate School of Design alumni like their father, and now run Pei Partnership Architects.
Pei is famous for designs including the JFK Presidential Library and Museum, the Louvre Pyramid, Denver’s Mile High Center, Society Hill Towers in Philadelphia, and the Mesa Laboratory for the National Center for Atmospheric Research near Boulder. He explains that his style originated with the Chinese gardens and mountainside shrines he saw with his mother. “I have never forgotten those gardens: wonderful marriages of man-made and natural design.”
Type of Architect
Pei was not interested in the Beaux Arts style taught at his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. He was inspired by the Swiss-French architect, Le Corbusier, and the new international style, which was characterized by simplicity and use of glass and steel. After Le Corbusier’s visit to MIT in 1935, Pei stated, “The two days with Le Corbusier, or ‘Corbu’ as we used to call him, were probably the most important days in my architectural education.” Pei was also influenced by the work of US architect Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1938, he drove to Spring Green, Wisconsin, to visit Wright’s famous Taliesin building. After waiting for two hours, however, he left without meeting Wright.”
As his biographer, Carter Wiseman, stated in 2000, “[Pei is] the most distinguished member of his Late-Modernist generation still in practice.” Pei’s style was too individual and dependent on context and therefore, did not result in a specific school of architecture, as did, for example, his colleague Mies van der Rohe. “For me,” he said, “the important distinction is between a stylistic approach to the design; and an analytical approach giving the process of due consideration to time, place, and purpose ... My analytical approach requires a full understanding of the three essential elements ... to arrive at an ideal balance among them.”
I.M. Pei has won numerous commendations for his designs – they include the AIA Gold Medal, the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects, and the Pritzker Prize, as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Controversy in Architecture
Pei’s designs were not without controversy. For example, after he designed the Louvre Pyramid commissioned by François Mitterrand in 1984, controversy swirled around the final design because of its Egyptian look. The East Building in Washington was criticized for not displaying art as well as the original building. Even the JFK Library had its share of controversy with its years of conflict and compromise, although Jackie had selected Pei for his vision and the shared birth year of JFK. She explained, “He was so full of promise, like Jack; they were born in the same year. I decided it would be fun to take a great leap with him.”
Did You Know?
- Contrary to myths and movies, the glass panes in the Pyramid number 673 and not the “number of the beast” satanic number of 606.
- Attendance at the Louvre doubled between 1984 and 2014, rendering the spacious entrance once again too small for the visiting crowds; the foyer area beneath the pyramid is now undergoing renovation.
- I.M. Pei was offered a teaching position at Oxford, but stated he preferred the America of Bing Crosby, Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton.
I’m a western architect, by Edwin Heathcote, an interview with I.M. Pei
See a list of Pei’s architecture and where the structures can be found
Have a centennial suggestion? Let us know!