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Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: I.M. Pei

By May 12, 2023No Comments

“I believe that architecture is a pragmatic art. To become art is must be built on a foundation of necessity. “   I.M. Pei 


World Renowned Master Architect, I.M. Pei

Photo Credit: Architectural Review

We salute world-renowned Chinese American master architect I.M. Pei.

For nearly seven decades, he was one of the world’s most requested architects, completing projects over a broad spectrum from commercial to government to cultural designs. I.M. Pei died in 2019 at the age of 102.

His designs, recognized across the globe, are distinguished by an emphasis on precision geometry, plain surfaces, and natural light.

Pei was born Ieoh Ming Pei in Guangzhou, China, in 1917. As a teenager, he left to study in the U.S., earning a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1940. His studies continued at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. He briefly paused his educational aspirations to work for the U.S. National Defense Research Committee during World War II. After returning to Harvard, Pei studied with notable German architect Walter Gropius, learning modern and cosmetic techniques. He also worked as an assistant professor while earning his master’s degree in architecture. Pei was awarded the MIT Traveling Fellowship and the Wheelwright Traveling Fellowship at Harvard as a student.

Pei became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1954. After graduating from Harvard, the architectural firm Webb and Knob in New York hired him as an architect director. In 1955, he left to start his own firm. One of his first well-known projects was designing the Mile High Center in Denver. He also developed several urban-renewal blueprints for large cities, including Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Boston.

Additionally, he designed President John F. Kennedy’s nine-story presidential library. He was tapped to design other notable structures, including the west wing of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and the east wing of the National Gallery of Art, widely considered one of his masterpieces. Pei’s firm received the 1968 Architectural Firm Award from the American Institute of Architects.

Pei was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1983. He used the $100,000 in prize money to develop a scholarship for Chinese students to study architecture in the U.S. Pei’s work continued into the early 2000s and included notable buildings such as the Louvre Pyramid, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame.