Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei was a towering figure of the Modernist architectural tradition. Pei studied under great architects such as Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, but by the mid-1950s he had begun to develop his own distinct style. Read on to learn more about some of Pei’s most significant projects and just what makes them stand out.
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EAST BUILDING OF THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART
One of Pei’s first major projects was the East Building for the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Pei faced many challenges with this project, starting with the irregularly-shaped trapezoidal space the building was to occupy. The resulting gallery is made up of two towers connected by a bridge, creating an imposing “H-shaped” façade. The building, while less airy than Pei’s other works, nonetheless matches the aesthetics of the older West Building.
LOUVRE PYRAMID The Louvre Pyramid is indelibly associated with Pei. Commissioned by then-French President Mitterand in 1983, Pei was charged with modernizing the Louvre. Pei achieved this by placing a diaphanous glass and steel pyramid in the Cour Napoléon. This pyramid serves as an entrance to an underground addition to the Louvre.
ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME After modernizing the Louvre, Pei brought some gravitas to the music of the hoi polloi with his design for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio. Emblematic of Pei’s Modernist aesthetics, the Hall of Fame features a theatre cantilevered over Lake Erie. Like Pei’s work on the Louvre, the Hall of Fame contains another vast glass pyramid as well. JOHN F. KENNEDY PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY Pei designed many notable works of Boston architecture, including the JFK Presidential Library and Museum. The library complex consists of a triangular 9-story concrete tower, blended with a glass memorial pavilion. The pavilion is empty except for an enormous, vertically-hanging American flag.
MUSEUM OF ISLAMIC ART Pei was coaxed out of retirement to design the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar. The building appears to rise out of the water, standing at the end of the 4-mile-long waterfront known as the Doha Corniche. Pei spent months studying Islamic art before beginning the project, and these influences can be seen in the abundance of arches and geometric designs, as well as the tasteful incorporation of water features.
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
Although it is a classic of Parisian architecture today, the Louvre Pyramid generated controversy when it was first designed.
The East Building of the National Gallery wasn’t an easy design. Find out more about it here!
I.M. Pei’s design for the Mesa Laboratory drew its inspiration from Native American traditions.
Pei surrounded himself with art, even in his own home! Watch this video to learn more about the architect’s own tastes.
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