16.11.2018 in Analysis
Architectural History: I. M. Pei

Ieoh Ming Pei is one of the prominent figures in the architecture of the world. Being an American-Chinese architect, he contributed greatly to the development of the architecture in both countries and in the world. The pieces of his works are located all over the world and people can see the magnificence of the building, the fusion of the architectural style and the cultural significance. Speaking about Ieoh Ming Pei, much can be said about his life, works, and the influence of his constructions to the world architecture. His buildings changed the city designs, his works continue impressing people from over world. Using simple geometrical figures in his work and the common materials, namely, steel, glass, aluminum, and concrete, the architect managed to create unbelievable constructions. His works are unique and in most cases they are fresh and absolutely unrepeatable. The creativity and imagination of the architect have made him known all over the world. The work and life of the architect allowed him to present his works in different parts of the world.

Living and working for some time in the USA, this country has some pieces of his work, which impress with originality, the European countries can also boast with the pieces, which are as simple as the pure geometrical figures, but which construction has impressed with the complicated solution and the combination of the material. The native Asia and specifically China also has a number of buildings, which are considered as the masterpieces even though the idea seems easy and simple. The main peculiarity of Ieoh Ming Pei is the expression of the personal ideas in simple constructions using the complicated methods and combinations. The use of material impresses as it is hard to combine steel and glass in one building and to make is as organic and natural, so it is impossible even to recognize the strong and hard steel within a tender mirror and glass. The modernist direction of all his constructions and the complete ignorance of the environment has created an image to the architect. The main idea of the paper is to consider the life of the famous architect Ieoh Ming Pei, to see how his life affected his career and to follow his development as an architect through several of his constructions having analyzed the design, peculiarities of the construction process, different aspects of the structure, and the environment around the building and its functionality to see the significance of an architect and his works and to understand his role in the world architecture development.

Ieoh Ming Pei’ Life

Life and Career

Ieoh Ming Pei was born on April 26, 1917 in Canton, Guanghou, China. After the first year of life, the family moves to Hong Kong. Eventually the family consists of five children. Relationships with parents are rather divergent. There exists a close connection with mother, who invites Pei and his brother to join the meditation retreats. Meanwhile the boy and father’s interaction are cold and distant, though they are respectful. When the boy is ten and the family moves to Shanghai after father’s promotion. Pei studies at protestant school, Saint John’s Middle School. There is a strict discipline. At this time the boy enjoys playing billiards, watching Hollywood movies. He also reads Charles Dickens’s novels and the Bible. Soon the family recognizes about mother’s developed cancer. She is prescribed opium because of her splitting pain. Pei is the one who prepares her pipe. After mother’s death relations between father and son gets more distant.

Graduating from the secondary school, Pei strongly decides to get his higher education abroad. He has examined a lot of variants. A number of schools accept him, though he choice fixes upon the University of Pennsylvania. There are several reasons of such a choice. First of all, the picturesque parks and charming buildings of Shanghai influences him a lot and inflame a great desire to the architecture. The second rather important reason is Hollywood. Students’ life in the movies attracts Pei. He considers it playful and joyful. The studying process differs from the boy’s expectation. Teachers pay great attention to the classical traditions of Roman and Greece architecture, while Pei is more attracted to the modern one. He also sees the higher level of proficiency presented by other students. It upsets him and makes him leave the architecture and transfer to the engineering in Massachusetts. Transferring to the Massachusetts Institute of Technologies and after the dean’s persuasion Pei continues studying architecture. The Beaux – Arts style is the basis of the education here as well. Pei founds his inspiration in works of the innovative design that is characterized by the use of steel and glass. The great influence on Pei is the visit of Le Corbusier, Pei’s favourite architecture, in November 1935. They spend two days together and this occasion becomes essential in Pei’s architectural career. Pei receives his Bachelor degree in 1940. Pei intends to come back his home country but the Second Sino- Japanese War changes his plans. He stays at the USA and works for Stone & Webster in Boston. In spring 1942 Pei marries Eileen Loo. She applies to the Harvard University in the landscape architecture program. Pei is introduced to the members of the faculty and inspired by the cheerful atmosphere joins it in December 1942. Later on working in Harvard, Pei becomes a member of the National Defence Research Committee. It works on weapons technologies in fight against fascist Germany. Then he focuses on the Pacific War. Pei’s architectural knowledge is in great value. It helps to develop new weapon appropriated to every country. In 1945 Pei becomes a father. Eileen gives a birth to a son and withdraws the program to look after the baby. Pei comes back to Harvard. He gets his master degree and takes the position of the assistant professor.

In the spring 1948 Pei receives an offer to work for William Zeckendorf, real estate magnate. He is proposed to become a part of the group of architects in Webb and Knapp to design and construct buildings around the country. They both are divergent, but it doesn’t impede them to become friends and co-work together successfully. The first Pei’s project for this firm is an apartment building. He focuses on the design of a circular tower and concentric rings. The owner of the firm is so pleased with this work that shows it to Le Corbusier. Because of its design the project costs a lot and remains only a model. The first embodied work appears in 1949. It is a corporate building in Atlanta. The peculiarity of the building is the use of marble to for the exterior. Later on Pei gets praised by the journal Architectural Forum. The beginning of Pei’s career is influenced by Mies van der Rohe. One of the prominent works of Pei as a member of Zeckendorf’s team is a reconstruction of the building of the firm, particularly transformation of the office. It gets a space with walls of the teak and clerestory made of glass. There is also installed a panel on the desk. It helps to control the lightning in the office. To turn this project into life the company needs about a year and spends a great amount of money. Time passes and Pei decides to start his own business establishing a new firm I. M. Pei & Associates. It focuses on architectural models.


Works of the Famous Architect

During the life time I. M. Pei created a great amount of different buildings all around the world. The year 1961 he designs the new Mesa Laboratory in Colorado. It is the building for the National Center for Atmospheric Research. The building looks as if being curved out of the rock. The main idea of it is the existing of the building in harmony with the surroundings. It is characterized by the leaks in the roof and clay soil. In 1963, after John F. Kennedy death, the idea of a memorial appears among his friends and family. A library is considered to be a pyramid made of glass in order to fill the building with the light. The building symbolizes hope and optimism. Though some arguments appear in the society, the design of the building does not require desires of the audience. That is why new design should be developed. It combines a large atrium made of square glass together with a triangle tower. All in all, critics like it, while the architect remains unsatisfied because the final version lacks the original idea.

During the 1960s and 1970s new projects appear. Local Government of Oklahoma city intends to renovate the downtown of the city by building new office centers and parking places. This plan leads to demolition of historical buildings. After Kennedy’s death Pei’s firm gets a new project. Mayor of Dallas, Erik Johnson, wishing to change the image of the city asks Pei for help. The work starts with a new city hall. It is planned to be a symbol of the people. Making the building fit, Pei researches surrounding territory, meets residents of the city. After this he decides to create something to make a dialogue between business downtown and the public sphere.

Working together with Theodore Musho, they design a building where the bottom is much narrower than the top. The front slopes at an angle of 34 degrees. The square stretches in front of the building held by series columns. Le Corbusier’s creation of High Court in India makes an influence on Pei. The project costs more than expected and it takes about 11 years for construction. Subterranean parking place included in the project of the building helps partially secure revenue. The inside the City Hall is spacious and large. The light comes through the windows in the ceiling on the eighth floor. The building is officially opened in 1978, and it greatly is complementary with the city landscape. The Dallas City Hall brings Pei a success. The community is pleased with the construction, and invites the architect to create five more buildings. 1976 is the year of finishing another creation – Hancock Tower. It becomes the tallest building in New England. Though during the construction there appear some problems: glass panels split up and fall down causing injuries. As a result, the whole tower gets repaned with smaller pieces. It makes the project more expensive and leads to the court. It becomes a great obstacle for Pei’s company and demands a lot of patience. Since 1990 till nowadays Pei works on designing museums all over the world. There are such well-known museums as Mudam in Luxembourg, German Historical Museum in Berlin, Miho Museum, Suzhou Museum, Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Macau Science Centre etc.

Personal Style

Pei’s style is defined as a modern with the elements of cubism. He mixes traditional elements with modern elements based on geometric patterns. Pei usually combines classical forms and their embodiment in the modern world. The architect great attention pays on how the building affects the community: the importance of the building, its form and practice in use. All the works are original with unique shapes and elements. They combine consummate mastery of the creator. The concept of every creation is individual and mostly depends on the environment where the building is created. Pei’s genius is beyond the discussion, though the brilliance is not often paid appropriately. One of the peculiarities of the Pei’s constructions is the fact that he has always been creative and significantly innovative in the field of architecture. Looking at what the architect has created, it is possible to say that he has not invented anything new, but this style of thinking and the possibility to renew the already existing buildings, to give them the new life have always been frustrating and magnificent. His style is closely connected to innovations, which can be seen in most of his constructions. He usually did not search for new trends, he used the already existing knowledge, but he also presented this knowledge as something specific and unique. His style cannot be confused with anything as the American-Chinese style noticed in his works can be seen in any of his constructions.

Achievements and Accomplishments

Pei is a genius of architecture. He is the one whose imagination and knowledge created a great number of magnificent buildings all around the world. Being a good workman, Pei deserves rewards and there is such a list. The first one is the Arnold Brunner Award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, received in 1963. In 1979 Pei he got the Gold Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for Architecture. Later on the same year he was awarded with the AIA Gold Medal. The Japan Art Association awards him the first Praemium Imperiale in the sphere of Architecture. The Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum is also in the list of rewards. 2003 brings the architect from the National Building Museum Henry C. Turner Prize. In 2010 Pei gets Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects. And the last but not least in the list of awards is the one with a weighty significance. It is the Nobel Prize for Architecture.

Louvre Pyramid

After the elections in 1981, the new president of France, Francois Mitterrand, had an intention to renew cultural sightseeing all around the country. One of the most beneficial projects becomes reorganization and renovation of the Louvre. I. M. Pei is commissioned to this program. He is the first foreign architect working in the Louvre museum. Cour Napoleon, the main court of the Louvre, is completely renewed in 1989 in order to lessen the congestion from a great number of visitors. A new large entrance provides an opportune central lobby space detached from the galleries. Moreover, opening one more entrance to the Louvre, Pei creates a new subterranean system of storage, galleries and restoration laboratories together with the connection between different parts of the museum. Some additional space and dislocation of the assisting room of the museum allows enlarging collections in Louvre and giving more space for exhibits. The Grand Louvre Pyramid presents a huge pyramid in the center of the square in the Louvre with three small pyramids surrounding it. This is a very significant construction in the life of Louvre since it opened the curtains and allowed people to see the masterpieces hidden for centuries.

Design and Construction

Pei creates the design of the Louvre implementing steel pyramid with a lot of glasses enclosed by little triangles. They lighten the room below Cour Napoleon. Glass pyramid is defined by its creator as a symbolic entrance with the figural and historical significance. It strengthens the main entrance. The exceeding exterior of the steel and glass pyramid secured in the middle of the court accommodates a central point that bestows the design and the scale of the Louvre. The large pyramid is modeled to the same size proportion as the prominent Pyramid of Giza. Its scale does not diminish the historical essence of the museum. It rather becomes the confrontation of the architectural style of the French Renaissance and modern style in the structure of the building. It makes laudatory effect that reinforces the beauty of every designed detail. Inclined glass walls of the pyramid start to pay esteem to the attic roofs of the museum, and the swarthy, cumbersome qualities of the façade increase the transparency of the designer’s intention.

Considering the design and construction from the point of view of the personal style of the architect, the innovation is seen particular. The space grid structure was an innovation at the time when the construction was designed. Additionally, the peculiarity of the structure is that it is “clad with fully perimeter-supported structurally glazed system in which the glass is fixed to the frame by a structural silicone adhesive with no mechanical attachment”. The construction is a prototype of the well known Pyramid of Giza with the different purpose and another style of creation. The design was completely copied, however, it is impossible to call a plagiarism, since the already mentioned several times the pie’s personal style is present here. The glass and steel are combined in a very attractive and specific manner. The role of the glass is to open everything underneath the pyramid, while the role of steel is to assure that the construction is strong enough. The strength is also expressed in the particular shape, the pyramid. Both, the American cubism and the Chinese Feng Chu features are expressed in the design of this building.

Glass in this particular case is used as the design element, not as a material. The initial purpose of the construction is to assure that people can see through it. The implementing of steel as the supporting material became inevitable in this case. The combination of glass and steel is used by the architect for many times that creates an impression of the specific significance of the material in the design solutions. The basic construction characteristics of the pyramid are simple. The construction has the height of about 71 feet with the square if around 115 feet. Overall, the pyramid was created out of rhombs and triangular shaped glass. The use of the simple geometrical figures has allowed the architect to create such a magnificent symmetric figure, which is also has a geometry nature. Therefore, the place of cubism cannot be contradicted. The construction is purely geometric with the specific location of the main and the supporting pyramids on the space.


One of the main controversial aspects of the Louvre Pyramid remained its intrusion into the sacred space of the Louvre. For many centuries the space inside the Louvre was hidden from the eyes of people and no one dared to come there and watch. The significant architectural design and the specifics of the construction have allowed the population to see the masterpieces of Louvre. The main controversy of the Grand Louvre Pyramid is explained by Kleiner as follows, “although initially controversial because conservative critics considered it a jarring, dissonant intrusion in a hallowed public space left untouched for centuries, Pei’s pyramid… quickly captured the French public’s imagination and administration”. The purpose of the pyramid in the sacred Louvre is only the first controversy.

Another specific controversy of the Louvre pyramid is the particular futuristic vision it creates on the background of the traditional classical architecture. Coming to the place, people first see this construction as an island in the idle of the traditional buildings. The combination of the traditional and the futuristic space has been discussed in many sources. The human opinion has been shaped. Some people are sure that such location is completely inappropriate as there must be a line between the past and the future. At the same time, some people are sure that the particular fusion is a huge step on the way to the architecture development. This is one of the innovations to put a construction which does not fit the surrounding and to see the result. The controversy still remains a controversy, but there is nothing negative in this respect since it adds to the development of architecture as a field and specifically creates one more distinctive feature for Pei.

Understanding How This Pyramid Has Benefited Louvre Museum

The benefit of the Louvre Pyramid to the museum can largely be explained through the position of the opening of the unknown. This new construction has attracted people from all over the world to visit the place one more time as it has shown the specific space of the museum, which was close for many years from the public. Considering the role of the Louvre Pyramid, Kleiner has highlighted that “Pei transformed his ancient solid stone models into a transparent ‘tent’, simultaneously permitting an almost uninterrupted view of the wings of the royal palace courtyard and serving as a skylight for the new underground network of ticket booths, offices, shops, restraints, and conference rooms he also designed”. Initially the place was the French royal residence, but now it allows to consider not only the architectural significance of the construction, but also to see the historical aspects of the royal residence, the place hidden for many years. Being a modernist in his nature, an architect did much in order to guarantee people a new view of the buildings. The benefit of Louvre Pyramid to the museum cannot be overestimated as more and more people come to the place and they can see the previously hidden places, which allow them to create a different opinion of the life in Louvre. People can see the reality through the masterpieces created by Pei and this fact is significant in the history of French architecture. The Louvre Pyramid remains a specific reminder of how the modern architecture can reshape the already created vision and to add the novelist views on any issues considered. It is significant to note that the construction has allowed people to see what was not allowed previously. Therefore, it can be considered as symbol of the open of unknown when it comes time. Everything considered from the present position can be reconsidered in the future and this specific significance allows the Louvre Pyramid to show that the perceptions change and everything can be changed.

Bank of China Tower

The Bank of China Tower is a building constructed specifically for the business needs. The construction and design of the building have the specific peculiarities comprised in the shape and the structure of the tower. Also, the building has a historical significance since it was the first skyscraper higher than 1000 feet build outside the USA. Being inaugurated in 1990, the building remained one of the highest buildings in the world outside the USA. Much attention should be paid to the peculiarities of the building design and construction, as the material of the building are ordinary in their nature, but their function is the specific due to the cultural significance. Overall, the building is created in a specific American manner, but the attention is paid to the Chinese cultural significance, namely, Feng Shui principles. The core facts about the building are as follows. The construction was built for about five years and five months. It has a strange and particular shape: the building is created out of several blocks, which comprise a prism. The 72-storied building is comprised of very simple in their nature figures, which have managed to create a unique building which impresses with its shape and unbelievable forms.

Design and Construction

The design and construction of the building impress from the first sight. The building is created out of four masts of different height, which create the peculiarity of the form and the significance in the shape. Each of the masts has different number of walls facing sides. Speaking about the construction and the design, the American peculiarity of the building techniques were used for creating a purely Chinese building, which followed the Feng Shui principle. Feng Shui principle dictates the peculiarities of the architectural style to Chinese buildings and this one was not an exception as the material of which the building was constructed and the peculiarity of the place and form confirm this fact. The building is designed with the use of mirror, which function in the Feng Shui principle is expressed via the energy is absorbs. Also, mirror represents wealth and it is aimed at expanding the space of the building. Having created the tallest building in Hong Kong with the mirror walls, the architect had an intention to expand not the space of the building but the space of the whole city. This is a significance which affected the peculiarity of the building itself and its role for the city as a whole. Reflecting the bad energy, the building was presupposed to be a business center, which highlighted the social and financial tendencies of the city. The sharp ends also have their peculiarity in the design. According to the Chinese Feng Shui principles, sharp angles have an intention to attack the objects they are directed at. The signs and explanations of this symbol are numerous. Therefore, the design of the building can easily be called the symbolic in the Chinese nature with the specifics of the Chinese Feng Shui principles and performed in the best ways of the laws of the American structural art.

As it has already mentioned, the construction of the Bank of China Tower has a specific feature, its prism shape. The building is constructed out of four different masts, which rise on different height. According to China Highlights, the building structure is defined as follows, “Bank of China Tower is composed of triangular sections with triangular frames and is reminiscent of crystalline growth and structure”. The smallest mast faces outward side ones, on the second place in height does it two times, the third one face side three times, and the last and the highest mast faces the outward side five times. Each of the four parts of the construction is the prisms as well and these four parts of the building create a building shape. The significance of the building in the construction and design is its particular asymmetrical form created of the pure geometrical forms. The geometry is seen in each part of the construction, in the form and shape. With the use of the 3-D space truss design, the building allows to survive while severe winds and earthquakes. The materials of which the building is constructed are predominantly steel, glass, aluminum, and concrete. The combination of these materials has allowed creating this piece of the structural art.

Analyzing Different Aspects of the Structure

As it has already been mentioned above, the Bank of China Tower is an example of the structural art. The specific peculiarities of this type of art are expressed in the building materials and the way they are used in the construction. Cubism is one of the trends Pei used in many of his works and this construction is not an exception. The building is created specifically to show the pure structure, to show the canons of geometry even though some parts of the building are asymmetrical. Moreover, the signs of geometry canons are seen in the building asymmetric. On the one hand, the building is created of a very unstable mirror, which can be ruined fast. On the other hand, steel and aluminum create the strength of the construction. It is significant to note that the mirror is firmly kept by the steel construction that creates an impression of protection and power. Overall, the building seems to be very tender from the side, but having entered it, one can see the strength and the power of the walls and interior itself.

As it has already been mentioned under the specifics of the construction, the building is created on the basis of four geometrical figures of different height, which create the peculiar asymmetric prism constriction of the building. The interior is a net of the steel and alumni constructions, which create the basis of the building inside. The construction is really strong, which has been allowed by the peculiarity of the building techniques. Even though the exterior is based on the mirror, the mirror is kept by the very strong construction of pipes.

Environment around the Building and the Functionality of the Building

The main purpose of the Bank of China Tower is to serve the business and financial needs. The building was constructed specifically for this purpose. The aggressive and dominant financial and business position of the place is expressed in its shape. First of all, the masts are of different height, which can be understood as the desire to show that the construction is open for different partners and opportunities. The sharp sides of the construction also show the aggressive mood against the enemies. As it has already been mentioned above, the mirrors of the sides of the building attract the positive energy of the city, wealth and prosperity. At the same time the same mirrors reflect the possible anger, aggression, and other negative issues which may stress the economy and business worlds of Hong Kong. Therefore, being created for the financial and business purposes, the building can be considered as an aggressive and Favorable depending on the side of the partner. Initially, the function of the building was aimed to be business. That is why the strict and official manner of the construction is seen in very constraint manner of the building. Being a business and financial center, the construction is identified on the background of other buildings in the environment, where “the glass facets of the building reflect the light and the surroundings, so it is like a bright and shiny white crystal, while the Sear Tower appears dark and brooding”.

The neighbors of the building are Cheung Kong Center, HSBC Building, and Jardine House. The Bank of the China Tower is located in the central business district on Hong Kong Island. The combination of the business environment and the countryside impression the ocean creates make the environment of the building controversial. It also adds to the significance and peculiarity of the construction. The controversial nature of the environment makes the building specific on the background of the constructions.


In conclusion, a detailed analysis of the Pei’s works has been conducted with the specific attention to his life and works. Having understood that the American study and the Chinese cultural heritage has affected the works of this prominent architect, the fusion of the American and Chinese architectural signs can be seen in the constructions and buildings created in different parts of the world. Specific attention has been paid to the design of two buildings, peculiarities of the construction process, different aspects of the structure, and the environment around the building and its functionality focused in the significance of an architect and his works with the purpose to understand his role in the world of architecture development. The life of the architect and the places he visited have affected his style significantly. Trying to impose the principles of modernism, the architect has managed to make his name on the peculiarities of the American-Chinese style and on the fact that he referred to the new absolutely strange ideas to implement his dare plans.

The two magnificent constructions discussed here have highlighted the main peculiarities of the architectural style of Pei. First of all, much has already been said about his personal style, which includes modernist, cubism, and innovation. The materials used for creating the buildings have always been traditional, however, the techniques used and the designs implemented have been striking. The use of glass or mirror in the Pei’s constructions was considered to be a design solution, not the construction one. This is a significant difference of Pei’s works from the works of other architects. The use if cubism has found the reflection in the geometrical forms and shapes the architect used. No matter which building was created or which construction was founded, the geometric figures supported this specific creation. The creativity of the architect has also been expressed by means of the schools of American structural art and the Chinese particular culture. The signs of both these trends are noticed ion the works of architect. Trying to be innovative by the steps of the American signs of his works, the architect also did not forget his roots and tried to show his Chinese origin whenever possible. Overall, the issue of the cultural heritage and the mixture of different styles and techniques have allowed this prominent person to remain the master of what he did.

The role of the architect in the world is significant as well as he did not only contributed to the architecture by means of showing the new techniques or trends, she showed that even the most dare ideals can be successfully implemented into life. The combination of the cultures, the fusion of times, and the mixture of the material have shown the world that there is much to be done in the future. There are no any barriers in art and the structural art in the modernist implementation from Pei have confirmed this opinion.

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