Friday, August 6, 2010

Designer of the Month: I.M. Pei

I must admit, I have a bit of an ulterior motive in making architect Ieoh Ming Pei - that's I.M. Pei to you and me - August's Designer of the Month. While in Japan, we took a day trip to the Miho Museum, an incredible structure designed by, you guessed it, Pei. So, by making Pei the Designer of the Month - voila! - I get to talk about the architect and tie in my recent trip to Japan all at the same time. Don't you just love when things works out that way? The Miho Museum is going to be week 4, but before then, we have a lot of ground to cover, starting with some background.

I.M. Pei. Photograph courtesy of Pei Cobb Freed and Partners.

Born in 1917 in Guangzhou, and raised in Hong Kong and Shanghai, Pei spent his formative years in China. In particular, it was the weekends and vacations spent in Suzhou, an area with a reputation for art and culture, where many of his family members had homes, that had an especially strong influence on Pei.[1] The family's house in Suzhou, known as the Garden of the Lion Forest, was known for its manipulation of light and shadow and the ways in which architectural and natural forms were combined, and it was a place where Pei would return to later in his career for inspiration.[2] In 1935, Pei left Shanghai for the University of Pennsylvania.[3] Of this decision, he explains that, "I could as easily have been a doctor or a lawyer. It was the descriptions of the architecture courses at Penn that did it."[4] Pei, however, was unhappy at Penn, a school that followed a course of study relying heavily on a very classical Greek and Roman style, with a focus on drawing.[5] With no artistic training, Pei became convinced that this program was not what he wanted; he gave up the idea of becoming an architect and transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with the purpose of studying engineering.[6] Despite this disappointment in the architecture program at Penn and Pei's new determination to become an engineer at MIT, he was singled out by William Emerson, the dean of MIT's architecture school, for his talent in design.[7] Emerson convined Pei to once more switch back to architecture, this time at MIT. Even with the decision to yet again focus on architecture, MIT's program ended up being similar to Penn's in its Beaux-Arts focus. During this time, however, Pei was becoming more and more interested in the work coming out of Europe, especially by such architects as Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius, the new chairman of the architecture department at Harvard.[8] When Pei and his new wife, Eileen Loo, were unable to return to China after Pei's graduation from MIT in 1940 because of Japan's invasion of the country, Eileen enrolled in a landscape architecture program at Harvard, and Pei soon joined her at the Graduate School for Design.[9] He recalls his time at Harvard as "a breath of fresh air. It was closer to what I understood architecture to be."[10]

I.M. Pei. Photo courtesy of Getty Images and New York Magazine.

Skip ahead a few years, after Pei's graduation from Harvard in 1946, when he moved his family to New York to work under William Zeckendorf at the real estate company Webb & Knapp, where Pei had the chance to gain practical experience designing a multitude of big projects.[11] In 1955, Pei decided it was time to start his own firm, I.M. Pei & Associates (known now as Pei Cobb Freed & Partners), which is where things get really interesting.[12] Over the next three weeks, I'm going to focus on some of Pei's most iconic designs: the National Gallery of Art, East Building and the Bank of China Tower in week 2, the Grand Louvre and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in week 3, and as already mentioned, the Miho Museum in week 4.

[1] Carter Wiseman, "China, MIT, and Harvard (1917-48): The Shaping of an Architect," I.M. Pei: A Profile in American Architecture (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990), 30-33.

[2] Ibid., 33.

[3] Ibid., 34.

[4] Ibid., 34.

[5] Mary Englar, I.M. Pei (Chicago, IL: Raintree, 2006), 15.

[6] Carter Wiseman, "China, MIT, and Harvard (1917-48): The Shaping of an Architect," I.M. Pei: A Profile in American Architecture (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990), 35.

[7] Mary Englar, I.M. Pei (Chicago, IL: Raintree, 2006), 16.

[8] Carter Wiseman, "China, MIT, and Harvard (1917-48): The Shaping of an Architect," I.M. Pei: A Profile in American Architecture (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990), 36-7.

[9] Ibid., 39.

[10] Ibid., 39.

[11] Mary Englar, I.M. Pei (Chicago, IL: Raintree, 2006), 23-4.

[12] Ibid., 31.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the post a few back. It means a lot and I'm never quite sure how to respond to blog/bposts about the shop. In any case, the images of the overlooking temple from Kyoto that you've posted are superb -- was the mosscape still scaping when you were there?

    IMPei's glasses and bespeckled face are something else....


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