Ieoh Ming Pei : architect biography

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

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Ieoh Ming Pei architect
Ieoh Ming Pei architect
Ieoh Ming Pei architect
Ieoh Ming Pei architect
Ieoh Ming Pei architect

Ieoh Ming Pei

In this body of reinforced concrete architecture, only the Dallas City Hall (1966-1977) stands out as an inelegant, rather ungainly sculptural form set on an arid plaza. With that noted exception, the work of this 10-year period is an incredible outpouring of sustained high quality endeavor.

In retrospect, the buildings hold up very well. While much of the architectural production of the 1960s and 1970s seems dated, this group of buildings by Ieoh Ming Pei and Partners has the same power and clarity it had when it was new. This is particularly true of the museum work and the regal set of buildings at the Christian Science Center in Boston. 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, I. M. Pei and Associates (later I. M. 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

In 1980, Freed, Leonard Jacobsen, and Werner Wandelmaier became partners, bringing that number to six. Freed had joined Ieoh Ming Pei 's office in 1956. Bom in Essen, Germany, in 1930 Ieoh Ming Pei received his Bachelor's of Architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology. After a time with the Army Corps of Engineers Ieoh Ming Pei moved to New York to work with his former teacher, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. That Miesian influence is clearer in the work of Freed (Kips Bay Plaza, 1962, and the New York University (NYU) Towers, 1967) than in any other of the firm's work. Both projects are marked by the rigid grid translated from Miesian steel to reinforced concrete. At NYU Freed achieved an extraordinary power, playing the deeply recessed concrete grid against the blank walls of the towers. Here, and at the aluminum-clad 88 Pine Street Tower (1973) in lower Manhattan, Ieoh Ming Pei made his two finest contributions to that early era of the firm's development. Sitting well within the strictures of the modern movement, the work of Freed at 88 Pine Street remains pure and seductive years after its completion, another testament to the potetially enduring qualities of well-wrought modernism. The financial district of lower Manhattan experienced unparalleled growth in the 1970s and 1980s, yet 88 Pine has lost none of its power as its strength is, like so much of the firm's work, bom of elegance.

Freed, like Cobb, could well be on his own. The two have remained with the firm over the decades, in part for the opportunity to work on projects of often enormous scale and almost always of great cultural significance. In addition, the resources of Ieoh Ming Pei and Partners's broad and deep expertise in such areas as high strength concrete and curtain wall construction afford designers access to ideas and solutions that would be impossible in a smaller, less prestigious organization. Like Cobb, Freed has devoted much of his energies to architectural education. From 1975 to 1978, Ieoh Ming Pei served as the Dean of the College of Architecture at his alma mater, the Illinois Institute of Technology.

The firm's successes, whether in the crisp concrete of the Atmospheric Research Center or the crystalline minimalism of Fountain Place, rely on the power of simple geometries that do not venture far from the original and singular ideas that Ieoh Ming Pei and his partners conceived. That raw power is tempered by careful detailing, close attention to choice of materials, and a thorough understanding of, and sensitivity to, site. The difficult site is exploited for its potential; the rich materials and details are never pretentious or precious; the geometries always make the complex look simple. When projects fail, it is usually because one of these elements has been ignored or not given its due. At the Dallas City Hall the building's sculptural qualities take precedence over site to the detriment of both. Sometimes the delay of a project results in an idea of the 1960s being drawn in the 1970s and built in the 1980s. Such was the case with Raffles City, an enormous hotel, office, convention, and shopping center in Singapore. The marvelous clarity of the nine-square grid is almost completely overwhelmed by the multiple geometries of the tower forms. The result is one of Ieoh Ming Pei 's less than elegant solutions to a complex program. Such is not the case with the Louvre in Paris.

After more than two decades of successful museum building, the firm became the architects of choice of most of the world's museum directors. It was not surprising that French President Mitterrand turned to Ieoh Ming Pei to undertake the rehabilitation and addition to the Louvre, for many, the most symbolically important museum in western culture. Here, Ieoh Ming Pei has developed a most controversial scheme of adding space under the great courtyard, with access to that space via a glass space frame of pyramidal form (Fig. 4). Once again, the clarity of vision and seeming simplicity of execution of that vision mark the work. Undoubtedly, the critical French public will come to cherish Ieoh Ming Pei 's pyramid in the same way that they grew to love Eiffel's tower.

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Despite the string of triumphs, in the aftermath of John Hancock many corporate clients stayed away. Important commissions of the late 1970s went elsewhere-AT & T to Philip Johnson and John Burgee, IBM to Edward Larrabee Bames, General Foods and Proctor and Gamble to Kohn, Pederson, Fox. By the 1980s, much of the work at Ieoh Ming Pei and Partners was overseas. While never moving headlong into the burgeoning market of the oil-rich Middle East, Pel's office did make a less than successful foray into the Shah's Iran and also experienced difficulties with projects in financially embattled Mexico. For the most part, however, the firm has concentrated on foreign markets that are stable, economically viable, and politically compatible to U.S. ideals. Thus, Ieoh Ming Pei has had an extensive presence in Singapore, helping that small nation temper its economic miracle with sound planning principles. In Hong Kong, Ieoh Ming Pei was called on by the Chinese government to design the Bank of China. This commission is particularly significant as Ieoh Ming Pei 's father had, in the pre-Revolutionary era, served as the bank's president.

Many of the bank's officers had learned their skills from the senior Pei. In addition, and more important in the political arena, the Bank of China is Beijing's most visible presence in a place that will, in 1997, become part of the mainland. The achievement of the tallest building in Asia has been considerably overshadowed by Norman Foster's high-tech Hong Kong-Shanghai Bank building a few blocks away. Ieoh Ming Pei 's tower is a highly abstracted geometrical construct of rotated and receding triangular solids, sheathed in reflective glass and cross-braced against the powerful wind loads of typhoon-prone Hong Kong. The spirahng form, despite its slendemess and height, lacks the sustaining interest and understated elegance of Hancock or 88 Pine, nor does it possess the solidarity of the Texas Commerce Bank Tower in Houston (1982). The Bank of China comes across as thin stuff more in the vein of Helmut Jahn than Ieoh Ming Pei and Partners. The project does bring to mind two other Ieoh Ming Pei buildings. Because of its highly articulated triangular structural system one is reminded of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York (1986) while its client, the Bank of China, makes comparisons to Ieoh Ming Pei 's other, and first, commission for the Chinese government, the Fragrant Hill Hotel (1982), 40 km outside Beijing.

At Fragrant Hill, a 300-room hotel in a park district near the Chinese capital, Ieoh Ming Pei has attempted to bring to his native China his often-quoted "third way of making buildings. Avoiding both an outright copying of traditional Chinese motifs (particularly the cliched pagoda roof) as well as the modernism of the West, Ieoh Ming Pei seeks to point the way in which a third world nation may grow. By using the devices of scale, simple geometries, and close ties to the landscape, Ieoh Ming Pei has managed, at Fragrant Hill, to make one of his most eloquent statements.

Ieoh Ming Pei 's long-admired traits of modesty, charm, and diplomacy have served him and his firm well. First recognized by Zeckendorf in the late 1940s, Ieoh Ming Pei has for decades used his talent and commitment to bring out the best in his colleagues and the most laudable aspirations in his clients. In a career marked by every major architectural honor including the AlA's Gold Medal (1979) and the $100,000 Pritzker Prize (1983), Ieoh Ming Pei will likely be remembered as a bastion of modernism whose appreciation for the urbane in art, planning, and architecture led him to the design of many of the world's most thoughtful projects.

General References
J. C. Starbuck, The Buildings of Ieoh Ming Pei and His Firm, Vance Bibliographies. Monticello, 111., 1978.
B. Diamonstein, American Architecture Now, Rizzoli, New York, 1980.
Y. Futagawa, ed.. Global Architecture, Vol. 41, Edita, Tokyo, 1976.

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