Ieoh Ming Pei : architect biography

famous architect : Ieoh Ming Pei [page1] [page2]

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Ieoh Ming Pei
Ieoh Ming Pei
Ieoh Ming Pei
Ieoh Ming Pei
Ieoh Ming Pei

Ieoh Ming Pei

Ieoh Ming Pei architect The son of a wealthy and prominent banker - economist, Ieoh Ming Pei lived in Shanghai and Hong Kong, as well as his native Canton, in the years following his birth in 1917. After attending St. John's Middle School in Shanghai, Ieoh Ming Pei came to the United States to study in 1935.

As many of his father's business associates were westerners- from the UK and northern Europe-it was expected that young Ieoh Ming Pei would go abroad for his studies. Originally, Ieoh Ming Pei planned to attend the University of Pennsylvania to study architecture, but his own uncertainty about his drawing skills and the highly drawing-oriented program of the beaux-arts influenced program at Pennsylvania shunted Pets interest elsewhere. Ieoh Ming Pei matriculated instead at MIT where Ieoh Ming Pei majored in architectural engineering. William Emerson, the dean at MIT, was influential in shifting Ieoh Ming Pei 's interests from engineering to architecture. On graduation in 1940, it was clear that his original intention, to return to his native China to practice, was not to be. World War II and the postwar revolution in China prevented his return, and on the advice of his father Ieoh Ming Pei remained in the United States and became a citizen.

From MIT, Ieoh Ming Pei moved to Harvard, where in 1942 Ieoh Ming Pei studied with Gropius and Breuer for six months. At that point, Ieoh Ming Pei volunteered for and served two years with the National Defense Research Committee in Princeton, New Jersey. In 1944, Ieoh Ming Pei returned to the Graduate School of Design (GSD) at Harvard to complete his Master's program, receiving his degree in 1946. As with others of his generation, notably Philip Johnson, Edward Larrabee Bames, Eliot Noyes, and Paul Rudolph, Ieoh Ming Pei was heavily influenced by both Gropius and Breuer. Clean, flat surfaces became a trademark of the era. These and other Bauhaus ideas and ideals were most distressing to Dean Emerson, Ieoh Ming Pei 's early mentor at MIT. Such notions were highly suspect in the beaux-arts atmosphere that permeated most schools of architecture in the 1940s. Despite these concerns, Ieoh Ming Pei matured and flourished under the tutelage of the Graduate School of Design's Dean Hudnut, as well as Gropius and Breuer.

Ieoh Ming Pei remained in Cambridge, serving as a faculty member at the GSD until 1948 when Ieoh Ming Pei was plucked from academe to serve as architect for developer William Zeckendorf. Known as Webb and Knapp, Zeckendorfs real estate firm was one of the most aggressive builders in the postwar period. Unlike most young architects who find their early and formative work in residences and other small scale projects, Ieoh Ming Pei was thrust immediately into the world of big buildings and big business. Among the projects undertaken by Zeckendorf, and supervised by his Director of Architecture, were the Mile High Center in Denver, Place Ville Marie in Montreal, and Kips Bay Plaza in New York City. These large-scale works all involved the kind of rigorous planning and appreciation of urban focus for which the Ieoh Ming Pei organization would be acclaimed. Not only did the years with Webb and Knapp offer Ieoh Ming Pei an extraordinary immersion into the world of corporate architecture, it also introduced him to the men who would soon become his partners, in one of the most successful U.S. architectural practices. Working with him were Henry N. Cobb, Eason H. Leonard, and later James Ingo Freed. With Cobb and Leonard as the original partners, Ieoh Ming Pei formally established his own firm, Ieoh Ming Pei and Associates (later Ieoh Ming Pei and Partners), in 1960. The end of the Zeckendorf era came amicably, something of a graduation, Ieoh Ming Pei having already begun to accept projects outside the Webb and Knapp aegis in the late 1950s. With Eason Leonard as managing partner and Henry Cobb as design partner, the firm set out to continue its large-scale planning and building efforts. In these two men Ieoh Ming Pei had two very different partners. Leonard's background included an architectural education in his native Oklahoma at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, followed by four years in the Army Corps of Engineers. Before joining Webb and Knapp, Ieoh Ming Pei worked for William Lescaze, an all too often overlooked practice where the principles of modernism were first introduced to corporate America.

related links

Ieoh Ming Pei Architect - Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong
Ieoh Ming Pei - www.pritzkerprize.com
Ieoh Ming Pei - archINFORM
Ieoh Ming Pei - Great Buildings Online
Ieoh Ming Pei - www.designboom.com

Cobb, by contrast, came out of a patrician Boston background with studies at Philips Exeter, Harvard College, and the Graduate School of Design at Harvard. After service in the naval reserve and a brief tenure at Hugh Stubbins's office, Cobb joined Webb and Knapp in 1950. Harry (as he is known to his associates) Cobb could certainly have had a thriving practice of his own, but Ieoh Ming Pei chose to be part of the firm and assume a somewhat less visible public role. At 36 Ieoh Ming Pei was largely responsible for the Place Ville Marie project in Montreal, an enormous undertaking in the modernist vernacular. This brainchild of Bill Zeckendorf´s would largely transform the Canadian city. In the years since Webb and Knapp, Cobb has devoted part of his time to teaching, culminating in his appointment as Chairman of the Graduate School of Design at Harvard. Ieoh Ming Pei served in this role for five years (1980-1985) and remains on the faculty. During his tenure, Harvard's role in architectural education was given new luster and direction as Cobb sought to invigorate a somewhat stagnant program with the vitality of issues focused on urbanism and quality environment. As a sensitive observer of the city, Cobb has always imbued his work with the sense that buildings cannot stand alone, but must be a part of, and vital addition to, an urban fabric. This is exemplified in some of Cobb's best design work, notably, the John Hancock Tower in Boston (1976), the Portland (Maine) Museum of Art (1983), and Fountain Place, a mixed-use development in Dallas (1986). In each of these projects, a relatively large building or buildings has been used as the focus of an urban space and as generator of urban activity. At both Fountain Place and John Hancock a reflective glass curtain wall high-rise has been used as foil for new and established urban spaces, respectively. Hancock, sitting adjacent to H. H. Richardon's Trinity Church and McKim, Mead and White's Public Library, may be the most effective use of reflective glass in the United States.

The Portland Museum uses a much smaller project to enhance a fading downtown and establish closure and presence in an urban setting. The museum is vaguely Renaissance in feeling on the exterior with direct references to the work of Sir John Soane (Dulwich Picture Gallery) on the interior. All three projects clearly illustrate a motif in the firm's work. In almost every major project by the Ieoh Ming Pei office, an ambitious planning agenda is given life with the simple, bold geometry of a single building. In that building, a clear statement invariably renders eloquent an often complex program of disparate functions. This kind of architectural boldness is certainly within the U.S. stream of Richardson and Sullivan with whom the firm is rarely associated because the stylistic issues, at least in the early years, are so obviously drawn from the Germanic influences Ieoh Ming Pei and Cobb assimilated at the GSD, and the Miesian background of Jim Freed. While much of the firm's work may have Bauhaus aesthetic ancestry, the clarity and strength of solution is largely out of Richardson, Sullivan, and Wright. The Bauhaus never had corporate clients as did Richardson and Sullivan, and while the Ieoh Ming Pei office (like the Bauhaus) has a social agenda as evidenced by its work at Society Hill in Philadelphia, Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, or the Denver Mall, its major efforts have been in the creation of elegant and powerful corporate and institutional icons.

After Hancock, it seemed unlikely that Ieoh Ming Pei and Partners would ever complete these corporate and institutional projects. With the glass of the Hancock Building littering the streets ofCopley Square, its well-documented facade riddled with plywood, Hancock seemed like a cruel denunciation of modem architecture-buildings as sculpture, technology run amok. While most of their clients retained faith in the firm's professionalism and integrity, they were reluctant to hire Ieoh Ming Pei for fear that the firm would soon fall under the legal and financial burdens of the Hancock disaster and the incumbent lawsuits.

This came at a time when the firm seemed to be embarking on its most creative and prolific period. Having completed two of the most important poured concrete buildings in the world-the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse (1968) (Fig. 2) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder (1967) (Fig. 3)-the 1970s looked like the Ieoh Ming Pei decade. In both projects, the vocabulary of powerful forms of enduring beauty belied the notion that modernism meant banality. From the collaborative efforts of Ieoh Ming Pei 's firm came tangible evidence that there was still a good deal of life in the modem movement. Seeing the elegant possibilities of poured concrete, the firm became the recognized expert in the postbrutalist era of architecture as almost anthropomorphic concrete art. With Hancock, the same expertise seemed to be evident in the sleek, reflective, knife-edged curtain wall. With many of its 60 stories of windows falling onto the streets of Boston, the future of Ieoh Ming Pei and Partners was very much in doubt. At first, not knowing the cause of the problem and suspecting everything, the client and architect called in a series of structural consultants to ascertain the reasons for the spectacular failure of the glass. Eventually, it was the glass itself that was recognized as the culprit; its two annealed layers were replaced by a single layer to eliminate undue movement and stress. All of the investigations and legal work took time. Many firms would have collapsed under the pressures of legal and investigative cost, and bad press. Yet, by the end of the 1970s, Ieoh Ming Pei and Partners was touted as the best architectural firm in the world. Comparisons to Louis Kahn and McKim, Mead and White were not uncommon. The Hancock fiasco was stemmed largely because owner and architect never lost faith in each other. John Hancock and Ieoh Ming Pei and Partners worked as a unit to confront the problems. When the glass issue was finally resolved, Ieoh Ming Pei 's East Wing of the National Gallery of Art was nearing completion and with it, the next era of the firm was taking shape.

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The East Wing represents the apogee of the concrete and masonry phase of the firm's work. The building contains all of the expertise the organization acquired in the first two decades of its operation. With the East Wing, all of the precision and boldness of past work is brought into focus. From Kips Bay Plaza through the Des Moines Art Center Addition (1968); the Everson Museum; the Mellon Center for the Arts at Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut (1972); the Atmospheric Research Center; the Christian Science Center in Boston (1973) (designed under the direction of Araldo Cossutta, who served as fourth partner from 196^-1973); the Johnson Museum of Art at Comell University (1973); and the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation Centre in Singapore (1976), Ieoh Ming Pei and Partners created a series of reinforced concrete buildings of consummate clarity and power. At the East Wing, the combination of careful site design; form work produced to the tolerance of the cabinetmaker; extraordinary integration of structural, mechanical, and electrical services; and a delicacy of all elements from geometry to color represent the quintessential collaborative effort of the Ieoh Ming Pei organization. The Miesian notion of God being in the details was never more apparent than at the East Wing. The Tennessee quarry that supplied the stone for the neoclassical John Russell Pope National Gallery was reopened so that Ieoh Ming Pei could avail himself of the same material for his addition. That same stone was ground up as aggregate for the concrete of the East Wing so that the building would radiate the same pink glow of the original. Here, as with Hancock, the collaboration extends to the relationship between client and architect. As an art patron himself, Ieoh Ming Pei speaks the language of the connoisseur, a quality not lost on Paul Mellon, who financed the project, or Carter Brown, the museum's director.

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