last update: May 16, 2019, 7:02 p.m.
Born in Guangzhou, China, in 1917, I.M. Pei had a career in architecture that spanned over 60 years. Mr. Pei, who moved to the United States to attend college and died Thursday at the age of 102, created several masterpieces of modern architecture that are known around the world. These now-iconic structures include the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, the Louvre Pyramid and the National Gallery of Art’s East Building. Here are some of the highlights of his megawatt architecture career.
This was one of the first major commissions by Mr. Pei’s own firm, I.M. Pei & Associates, which he set up in 1955. Completed in 1966, the building is situated high on a mesa overlooking the city, with the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop. His concrete and stone building was inspired by American Indian cliff dwellings in southwest Colorado.
This building, completed in 1968, was Mr. Pei’s first museum commission. According to the museum’s website, the architect “rejected the traditional notion that a museum needed to be a monumental container for art and decided it ought to be a sculptural work of art itself.” He wanted visitors to experience the building as a sculpture, a piece of art that people actively moved around, engaged with and observed from different angles.
The angular structure of glass and marble, finished in 1978, was constructed out of the same Tennessee marble as John Russell Pope’s original National Gallery Building of 1941. But here Mr. Pei reshaped it into a building of crisp, angular forms set around a triangular courtyard. This structure gave him a chance to demonstrate his belief that modernism was capable of producing works with the gravitas, the sense of permanence, and the popular appeal of the greatest traditional structures. Ada Louise Huxtable, the senior architecture critic of The New York Times at the time, hailed it as the most important building of the era. The building recently reopened after a $69 million renovation.
The glass pyramid that serves as an entry for the Louvre remains one of his most famous commissions. “If there’s one thing I know I didn’t do wrong, it’s the Louvre,” he said. His proposal, however, became the center of an international controversy when it was initially unveiled. Mr. Pei was accused of trying to deface one of the world’s great landmarks. With President François Mitterand’s backing, the pyramid design moved forward. It eventually opened in the spring of 1989, and its elegance and geometric precision eventually won over most of its critics.
After a series of high-brow museum commissions, this was perhaps his most surprising commission. Mr. Pei, not a rock ’n’ roll fan, initially turned down the job. But once he committed to the project, he did his research: he went on the road with Jann Wenner, the co-founder and publisher of Rolling Stone, traveling to various rock concerts. Completed in 1995, the Cleveland structure — with his signature sloping shape — amounts to a huge glass tent.
Mr. Pei’s last cultural building was the result of a call to design the Museum of Islamic Art, in Doha, Qatar, in 2008. A longtime collector of Western Abstract Expressionist art, he admitted to knowing little about Islamic art. But again, Mr. Pei saw an unlikely commission as an opportunity to learn about a culture he did not claim to understand. He began his research by reading a biography of the Prophet Muhammad, and then commenced a tour of great Islamic architecture around the world. This stacked-box design occupies a manmade island in the Doha harbor.