Louvre pyramid architect IM Pei dies aged 102
The architect’s buildings added elegance to landscapes worldwide with their powerful geometric shapes and grand spaces.
IM Pei, the globe-trotting architect who revived the Louvre museum in Paris with a giant glass pyramid and captured the spirit of rebellion at the multi-shaped Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the US, has died aged 102.
His death was confirmed on Thursday by a spokesman at his New York architecture firm.
Mr Pei’s works ranged from the trapezoidal addition to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC to the chiselled towers of the National Centre of Atmospheric Research that blend in with the reddish mountains in Boulder, Colorado.
His buildings added elegance to landscapes worldwide with their powerful geometric shapes and grand spaces.
Among them are the striking steel and glass Bank of China skyscraper in Hong Kong and John F Kennedy Memorial Library in Boston.
His work spanned decades, starting in the late 1940s and continuing through the new millennium.
Two of his last major projects, the Museum of Islamic Art, located on an artificial island just off the waterfront in Doha, Qatar, and the Macau Science Center, in China, opened in 2008 and 2009.
Mr Pei painstakingly researched each project, studying its use and relating it to the environment. But he also was interested in architecture as art — and the effect he could create.
“At one level my goal is simply to give people pleasure in being in a space and walking around it,” he said. “But I also think architecture can reach a level where it influences people to want to do something more with their lives. That is the challenge that I find most interesting.”
Mr Pei, who as a schoolboy in Shanghai was inspired by its building boom in the 1930s, immigrated to the United States and studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.
He advanced from his early work of designing office buildings, low-income housing and mixed-used complexes to a worldwide collection of museums, municipal buildings and hotels.
He fell into a modernist style blending elegance and technology, creating crisp, precise buildings.
His big break was in 1964, when he was chosen over many prestigious architects, such as Louis Kahn and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, to design the John F Kennedy Memorial Library in Boston.
At the time, Jacqueline Kennedy said all the candidates were excellent, “But Pei! He loves things to be beautiful”. The two became friends.
A slight, unpretentious man, Mr Pei developed a reputation as a skilled diplomat, persuading clients to spend the money for his grand-scale projects and working with a cast of engineers and developers.
Some of his designs were met with much controversy, such as the 71ft faceted glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre museum in Paris.
French president Francois Mitterrand, who personally selected Mr Pei to oversee the decaying, overcrowded museum’s renovation, endured a barrage of criticism when he unveiled the plan in 1984.
Many of the French vehemently opposed such a change to their symbol of their culture, once a medieval fortress and then a national palace.
But Mr Mitterrand and his supporters prevailed and the pyramid was finished in 1989.
It serves as the Louvre’s entrance, and a staircase leads visitors down to a vast, light-drenched lobby featuring ticket windows, shops, restaurants, an auditorium and escalators to other parts of the vast museum.
“All through the centuries, the Louvre has undergone violent change,” Mr Pei said. “The time had to be right. I was confident because this was the right time.”
In 1988, President Reagan honoured him with a National Medal of Arts. He also won the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, 1983, and the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal, 1979. President George HW Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992.
Mr Pei officially retired in 1990 but continued to work on projects.
Two of his sons, Li Chung Pei and Chien Chung Pei, former members of their father’s firm, formed Pei Partnership Architects in 1992. Their father’s firm, previously IM Pei and Partners, was renamed Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.
Pei’s wife, Eileen, who he married in 1942, died in 2014. A son, T’ing Chung, died in 2003. Besides sons Chien Chung Pei and Li Chung Pei, he is survived by a daughter, Liane.