I. M. Pei, one of the most revered architects in the world, died in New York on May 16, 2019. He was 102.
Pei’s best known designs are the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the glass pyramid at the entrance to the Louvre in Paris.
While in his ancestral country of China, he is also known for designing the Fragrance Hill resort in Beijing, the iconic Hong Kong landmark of the Bank of China tower, as well as the Suzhou Museum in Jiangsu.
What he valued the most in architecture, he said, was that it “stands the test of time.”
Pei was born in Guangdong in 1917 and brought up in a well-to-do household that was steeped in Chinese tradition.
His father, Tsuyee Pei, was one of China’s leading bankers. The junior Pei spent summers in a country village, where his father’s father had lived for more than 500 years, learning the rites of ancestor worship — and Western sophistication.
Pei moved to the U.S. at the age of 18 to study at Pennsylvania, MIT and Harvard.
Mr. Pei never played down his connections to China. His children were all given Chinese names, and when he won the Pritzker Prize in 1983, widely viewed as the highest honor a living architect can receive, he used the $100,000 award to establish a scholarship fund for Chinese architecture students.
Pei did not go back to China until 1974, and he didn’t hesitate to criticize the banal, Soviet-influenced architecture that he saw. He urged the Chinese to look back at their own traditions.
The Chinese government offered him a rural site outside the city and asked him to design a resort hotel there.
The end result is the Fragrant Hill, a group of resort buildings combining the geometric modernism with traditional Chinese architecture elements.
In 1982, Pei would have a very different kind of opportunity in China when the governors of the Bank of China in Hong Kong, the bank his father had once run, travelled to New York to meet with Tsuyee Pei, who had long since left China and was living in Manhattan. Their mission was to ask the senior Pei, in a demonstration of traditional Chinese etiquette, if he would agree to allow them to invite his son to design a new skyscraper headquarters for the bank in Hong Kong. Senior Pei said yes.
It would turn out to be one of Pei’s most notable towers.
The Chinese Embassy building located in the northwest of Washington DC is also a design work by I.M. Pei.
After his death, Jame C. Jao, a co-founder of the I.M.Pei Foundation, wrote:
“Whereby I.M. Pei has been a renowned world architect who always cared about the preservation of art, culture and local heritage by integrating every element thus to inspire world architecture in modern design.”
(The above text is based on the I.M.Pei obituary The New York Times published on May 17, 2019 and a commemorative article by James Jao The China Daily published on May 17, 2019.)