Ieoh Ming Pei (born April 26, 1917), commonly known as I. M. Pei, is a Chinese American architect, often called a master of modern architecture. Born in Canton, China and raised in Hong Kong and Shanghai, Pei drew inspiration at an early age from the gardens at Suzhou. In 1935 he moved to the United States to enroll in architecture school.
I. M. Pei is both an enigma to and inspiration for the modern architectural world. Described as playful, soft-spoken, and humble, Pei is ironically regarded as the figurehead of modern architecture. From his designs, it is apparent why he is such a celebrated creative genius.
His latest design, the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, is also notable for its place within a broader effort to reshape the region’s cultural identity. The building’s austere, almost primitive forms and the dazzling collections it houses underscore the seriousness of the country’s ambition.
Pei’s solution consisted of a triangular nine-story tower housing archival, educational and administrative functions, a two-story base containing exhibition space and two 230-seat theaters, and a 115-foot high memorial pavilion, which gives coherence and focus to the whole.
This immense, luminous glass structure became the new symbolic gateway to Paris’ beloved triumphal route on axis with the Arc de Triomphe and the Grande Arche de la Defense. But its bold form attracted controversy, before being seen as emblematic of Egypt’s place within French culture through the Napoleonic campaigns.
It was a total surprise that they approached me to do the project. You know the French, not to mention the Parisians—they see the Louvre as their monument, so to come to an American for a project like that is something I never expected. I thought perhaps they were just trying to show interest in different architects to try out the idea. But when President Mitterand asked me to see him, I knew that it was serious.
Life. I keep coming back to that - life. Life of people. Then after life is nature. Those are the two ingredients, aside from an important client with enough budget to do the sort of thing you want to do. You have to understand how this building's going to be used. Who are the people going to inhabit the building? Why?
The tower is one of the most exciting and elegant of all recent skyscrapers. Intended as a symbol of the new, ultra-capitalist People's Republic, the building was a special one for the architect. His father had worked for the Bank of China
Without catering to contextual motifs, Pei’s genius consists of maintaining the sleekness of his abstract geometric angularity, as in the Bank of China tower (1989) in Hong Kong, while incorporating a connection to the local landscape through massing and materials.
In 1979, I. M. Pei received The AIA Gold Medal, the highest architectural honor in the United States. Three years later he received the Grande Medaille d'Or from the French Academie d'Architecture. In 1989, the Japan Art Association awarded him the Praemium Imperiale for lifetime achievement in architecture, and in the following year UCLA bestowed the University's Gold Medal.
Pei's prominence as an architect grew when Jacquelyn Kennedy Onasis selected his design for the building of the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts. The impressive design, once completed in 1979, includes the Pavilion -- an indoor atrium completely enclosed by glass paneling that towers over 115 feet and overlooks the waterfront of Atlantic Ocean.
In 1955 he formed the partnership of I. M. Pei & Associates, which became I. M. Pei & Partners in 1966, and Pei Cobb Freed & Partners in 1989. The partnership received the 1968 Architectural Firm Award of the American Institute of Architects.
In 1948, William Zeckendorf invited Mr. Pei to accept the newly created post of Director of Architecture at Webb & Knapp real estate development corporation, resulting in many large-scale architectural and planning projects across the country.
Due to his reliance on abstract form and materials such as stone, concrete, glass, and steel, Pei has been considered a disciple of Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, both of whom he studied with at Harvard. However, Pei's work does not suggest his primary concern is theory.
"It is good to learn from the ancients," says IM Pei with a smile. "I'm a bit of an ancient myself. They had a lot of time to think about architecture and landscape. Today, we rush everything, but architecture is slow, and the landscapes it sits in even slower. It needs the time our political systems won't allow."
At age 17 he came to the United States to study architecture, and received a Bachelor of Architecture degree from MIT in 1940. Upon graduation he was awarded the Alpha Rho Chi Medal, the MIT Traveling Fellowship, and the AIA Gold Medal.