Famed Architect IM Pei Passes
On Thursday, Ieoh Ming (IM) Pei died in New York at age-102, the news of his passing confirmed by his son Li Chung Pei, known as Sandi, an architect like his famed father.
A personal note: As a marketing analyst for PPG Industries’ glass division in the mid-1960s, I met and spent some time with Pei in his New York City office.
I was doing a study on the company’s new commercial building window glasses at the time to determine market acceptability for the products.
I interviewed a number of architects in different cities. I was delighted that a figure of Pei’s stature agreed to see me.
He was supremely gracious, giving me more of his time than I imagined before meeting him. He was eager to know about the new products. I explained how PPG intended to market them, for what purposes, and when they’d be available.
I met Pei one time alone. He left a lasting impression on me, one of the most renowned architects of the 20th and early 21st centuries.
Known for bold geometric designs, his signature projects included the Louvre Pyramid, the National Gallery of Art’s East Wing, the Kennedy library, the Museum of Islamic Art, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the Everson Museum of Art, the Bank of China tower, the Athens Museum of Modern Art, and numerous other notable projects.
After retiring from his firm in 1990, he continued to do design work, valued by real estate developers, corporations, and heads of art museums.
Born in China, he studied architecture in the US, coming to the country at age-17, earning a BA from MIT in architecture and an MA from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design where he studied with German architect Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus design movement, following the principle of “form follow(ing) function.”
In 1948, he joined the real estate development firm of Webb & Knapp in New York City as director of its architectural division. Working with the firm’s head, William Zeckendorf, he designed the Mile High Center in Denver, Colorado (1955), the Hyde Park Redevelopment in Chicago (1959), and the Place Ville-Marie in Montreal (1965).
After founding his own architectural firm in 1955, IM Pei & Associates (later IM Pei & Partners, then Pei, Cobb and Freed), his innovative designs won him international fame and honors — working with stone, concrete, steel and glass.
In April 2017, Harvard’s Graduate School of Design celebrated his 100th birthday with an event in his honor, focusing on his formative years, attended by distinguished architectural figures.
A symposium on his work at the school followed months later. From 1945 – 48, he served as an Assistant Professor of Architecture at the school.
His numerous honors include the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects (1979), the Pritzker Architecture Prize (1983), the Japan Art Association’s Praemium Imperiale prize for architecture (1989), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1993), a lifetime achievement award from the Cooper-Hewitt museum (2003), and the Royal Gold Medal (2010) awarded by the Royal Institute of British Architects.
In 1975, he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, later becoming its chancellor, the first architect to hold the position. In 1993, he was made an officer France’s Legion of Honor.
He served on committees at New York’s Museum of Art, at Harvard and MIT, along with the National Council on the Humanities and National Council on the Arts.
He funded a scholarship for Chinese students to study architecture in the US on condition they return home to work in the field.
He valued architecture that would “stand the test of time” — an objective he achieved countless times during his renowned career.
My newest book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”