I.M. Pei, the preeminent US architect who forged a distinct brand of modern building design with his sharp lines and stark structures, has died in New York, his sons’ architecture firm said Thursday. He was 102 years old.
From the controversial Louvre Pyramid in Paris to the landmark Bank of China tower in Hong Kong, the Chinese-born Pei was the mastermind behind works seen as embracing modernity tempered by a grounding in history.
Pei Partnership Architects confirmed Pei’s death to AFP. The New York Times, citing Pei’s son Li Chung, said the architect had died overnight Wednesday into Thursday.
“Contemporary architects tend to impose modernity on something. There is a certain concern for history but it’s not very deep,” Pei, with his owlish round-rimmed glasses, told The New York Times in a 2008 interview.
The sharp lines and geometric, light-filled forms of Pei’s designs have created some of the most instantly recognisable landmarks of the world.
Here are five of the best:
US: National Gallery of Art (1978)
A “study in triangles” is how Architecture Week magazine describes Pei’s East Building addition to the National Gallery of Art in Washington.
The concrete and glass structure features huge mirrored pyramids and a 15-metre (50-foot) waterfall.
The Washington Post wrote at its opening in 1978 that it was “an architectonic symphony of light and marble, color and glass, painting and sculpture.”
“This building helped to shape attitudes to museum building throughout the United States in the 1970s and later,” architect Dennis Sharp wrote in “Twentieth Century Architecture: a Visual History” (2006).
France: Louvre pyramid (1989)
Pei’s addition of a giant glass pyramid to the courtyard of the historic Louvre palace, today the world’s most visited museum, was highly controversial and hotly rejected by many in France.
It has since become celebrated as “a symbol of the modernity of the museum and an emblem of Paris across the world,” Louvre president Jean-Luc Martinez said in 2017.
Opened to the public in 1989, the giant structure essentially provided a new entrance for the growing number of visitors.
Pei’s masterstroke was to link the three wings of the museum with vast underground galleries bathed in light streaming in through the glass and steel pyramid.
“Pei had imagined the hall under the pyramid as a space between the city and the collections, an interface between the outside and the works,” Martinez said.
China: Bank of China Tower (1989)
This 367.4-metre skyscraper, which appears to be made up of triangles, is one of the tallest office buildings in Hong Kong and arguably one of the most striking on the skyline.
Its four shafts, clad in glass and aluminium, form a prism that reflects the sun and the movement of the sky.
“The diagonal cuts that generate the prism create a sequence of atrium spaces that flood the tower with natural light,” says the website of Pei Cobb Freed and Partners, the firm from which Pei retired in 1990.
The 72-storey building was met with some controversy after claims that its sharp, triangular design exerts bad feng shui on surrounding structures.
Japan: Miho Museum (1997)
Located on a mountainside in a nature preserve near the Japanese town of Shigaraki, near Kyoto, around 80 percent of the Miho art museum is underground to preserve its scenic setting.
Visitors are led down a walkway enveloped by cherry trees and pass through an arching tunnel and over a suspension bridge before arriving at the collection of Asian and Western antiques.
Opened in 1997, the museum’s glass roof is made up of geometric combinations of triangles.
“I think you can see a very conscious attempt on my part to make the silhouette of the building comfortable in the natural landscape,” Pei is quoted as saying on the museum’s website.
Qatar: Museum of Islamic Art (2008)
“Traditional Islamic architecture meets the 21st century,” is the museum’s description of the building which incorporates geometric patterns and is lit by reflected light entering from above.
Pei told The New York Times in 2008 that he wanted the museum to embody the “essence of Islamic architecture” and spent months travelling the region for inspiration.
“Islam was one religion I did not know,” he said. “So I studied the life of Muhammad. I went to Egypt and Tunisia.”
“The museum is an object,” he said. “It should be treated as a piece of sculpture.”
© Agence France-Presse