10 I.M. Pei Buildings We Love

10 I.M. Pei Buildings We Love

By Jennifer Baum Lagdameo
We pay homage to renowned architect I.M. Pei, who recently passed away at the age of 102.

Born in Suzhou, China, on April 26, 1917, Chinese-American architect Ieoh Ming Pei grew up in Hong Kong and Shanghai before moving to the United States to study architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. He then went on to study engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, finishing his studies at Harvard's Graduate School of Design under the tutelage of former Bauhaus masters Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer.

In 1955, Pei founded his own practice, I.M. Pei & Associates, which later changed its name to Pei & Partners in 1966, becoming Pei Cobb Freed & Partners in 1989. A year later, in 1990, Pei retired from full-time practice. Yet, in 2017—at 100 years old—he still took on some consulting work for Pei Partnership Architects, the firm founded by his sons Chien Chung Pei and Li Chung Pei.

I.M. Pei with a model of Le Grand Louvre on his head.

Known as a modernist, his forms tend to be based on arrangements of simple geometric shapes. His strong structures are usually a statement in steel, glass, and concrete. Upon receiving a Pritzker Prize in 1983, the jury stated that he "has given this century some of its most beautiful interior spaces and exterior forms." And indeed he has. Here, we take a look at 10 of our favorite I.M. Pei buildings. 

Fountain Place - Dallas, Texas, 1986

I.M. Pei's Fountain Place is a 60-story modernist skyscraper in downtown Dallas, Texas. "He used angles, triangles, planes, and prisms to create a seemingly impossible visual space with this building," says photographer Nikola Olic, who took this image titled "Broken." "The view from the east makes the structure seem broken and folded down the middle," he continues.

Situated on a 1,000-foot slope that overlooks Lake Cayuga in Ithaca, the museum was designed by I.M. Pei and John L. Sullivan, with additional help from the firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. Spreading out over 61,000 square feet, the museum has nine stacked floors that house the exhibition spaces. 

The East Wing of the National Gallery of Art sits adjacent to the museum's original neoclassical home, both contrasting and complementing the original gallery. Built to house the National Gallery of Art's modern art collection, the structure is composed of triangular shapes, with corners of the stone-clad main building rising high to produce an abstract turret-like effect. A triangular paneled glass roof covers the central atrium that connects the two buildings. 

Built to commemorate John F. Kennedy, the library and museum contains papers and materials from his time in office and educates the public about the life of the 35th president. Pei was chosen by the Kennedy family to lead the project after JFK was assassinated in 1963, but setbacks and a change of location delayed the completion. With a commanding view of the Boston waterfront, the austere building comprised of Pei's signature geometric shapes in concrete, steel, and glass and serves as a fitting monument to the former president. Pei is said to consider the John F. Kennedy Library "the most important commission" of his life.

The iconic glass pyramid addition to Musée du Louvre in Paris is one of the most recognizable structures in the world, and arguably Pei's most famous structure. However, when it was first proposed, Pei's plan was highly controversial. Created as part of a renovation for the world-famous museum that's housed in a grand French Renaissance-style former palace, the glass-and-steel pyramids in the center courtyard of the complex were designed to allow light into a new subterranean concourse.

Anyone who has visited Hong Kong will immediately recognize Pei's iconic addition to the HK skyline. Standing tall at 1,033 feet high with two masts reaching 1,205 feet high, it was the tallest building in Hong Kong and Asia from 1989 to 1992, and the first building outside the United States to break the 1,000-foot mark. The design of the building is said to resemble growing bamboo shoots symbolizing livelihood and prosperity. 

Located in the hilly and forested mountainside outside of Kyoto, the Miho Museum was designed to evoke traditional Japanese architecture. Pei was commissioned by Mihoko Koyama and her daughter Hiroko Koyama to design the structure, which is approximately three-quarters underground. The roof is a large glass-and-steel construction that's composed of translucent triangles, while the exterior and interior walls and floor are made of a beige-colored limestone from France—the exact same material used by Pei in the reception hall of the Louvre.

It may not be as recognizable as the Louvre glass pyramid, but Berlin has its own glass-and-steel I.M. Pei museum addition, which is stunning in its own right. Often viewed as one of the most important museums in Berlin, the German Historical Museum is devoted to German history. The adjacent Exhibition Hall was designed by Pei during a renovation of the facade.

Pei's sprawling white stucco museum of Chinese art and craft is only the second building the architect has designed in China. It was influenced by the traditional structures in Pei's ancestral hometown. "I’ve never done anything like this before, I’ve used gray and white, which are Suzhou colors. But the form is modern," Pei told the New York Times in 2006. Indeed, the black-outlined white structure with sections of glass roof is inspired by the region's traditional houses and is beautifully reflected in the artificial pond of the surrounding garden. 

Standing apart on the waters of the Corniche in the Qatari capital Doha, the Museum of Islamic Art draws influence from traditional Islamic architecture. A glass curtain wall on the north side offers panoramic views from all five floors of gallery space, and the structure—which is made of limestone and captures hourly changes in light and shade—has become an iconic presence in the region.


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