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I.M. Pei (1917–2019), world-renowned architect

by Linnea Crowther

His designs include the glass pyramid at the Louvre in Paris.

Architect I.M. Pei, whose notable buildings include the John F. Kennedy Library and the Louvre Museum’s glass-and-steel pyramid, died May 15, 2019, at the age of 102, according to his son, Li Chung Pei.

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Pei, whose full name was Ieoh Ming Pei, was born April 26, 1917, in Suzhou, China, and raised in Hong Kong and Shanghai. An early fascination with Hollywood movies — especially those of Bing Crosby — led Pei to consider attending college in the U.S. He applied to a number of overseas colleges and decided on the University of Pennsylvania, though he later transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Studying architecture, he found inspiration in the modern designs of Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright.

As Pei graduated college in 1940, overseas war kept him in the U.S. after the completion of his studies. He joined the war effort on the National Defense Research Committee and later became a professor at Harvard University. He began designing with the firm of Webb and Knapp in 1948, working on projects including the Mile High Center in Denver, Colorado, and L’Enfant Plaza in Washington, D.C.

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Striking off on his own in the 1950s and ’60s, Pei began establishing his unique vision with projects including the Mesa Laboratory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research near Boulder, Colorado, and the Luce Memorial Chapel at Taiwan’s Tunghai University. In 1964, Jacqueline Kennedy personally selected Pei as the architect for the John F. Kennedy Library, a project that stretched out over years of disagreements. Though Pei was not entirely satisfied with the final result, he considered it his “most important commission,” and it raised his profile as an architect considerably.

Among Pei’s other works were several museum structures. In Washington, D.C., he designed a new building for the National Gallery of Art, a triangular building that generated controversy among critics for its unusual lines. For the renovation of Paris’ Louvre Museum in the 1980s, Pei designed a glass-and-metal pyramid to serve as its new entrance, another project that was almost universally opposed among the French … until they saw the completed structure, at which point many came around to admit it was striking. The pyramid is a key part of The Da Vinci Code — both the book and the movie — though the assertion that it’s constructed of 666 panes of glass is incorrect; the actual number is 673. In the 1990s, Pei took on another notable museum design, for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.

Pei continued to design buildings in the 21st century, with later projects including the Suzhou Museum near his place of birth and the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar. He is remembered as one of the most notable architects of his age, and he was widely recognized with awards including the Pritzker Prize, the highest honor of the architectural world.

Read full obituary from the New York Times.

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