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I.M. Pei, Chinese American Architect, Dies

Claudia Luther Los Angeles TimesMay 17, 2019

I.M. Pei, the Chinese-born American architect whose controversial pyramid at the entrance to Paris’Louvre museum sealed his reputation as one of the most distinguished architects of his time, has died, said Toh Tsun Lim, a principal at Pei Partnership Architects, I.M. Pei’s sons’ firm, on Thursday. He was 102.

Pei, who won the coveted Pritzker architecture prize in 1983, had clients who were a who’s who of 20th-century notables, including French President Francois Mitterrand for the Louvre, Jacqueline Kennedy for the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library in Boston and art collector and philanthropist Paul Mellon for the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

As the head of a prestigious architectural firm based in New York City, Pei oversaw dozens of well-known projects, including the now widely admired 60-story John Hancock Tower in Boston designed by partner Henry N. Cobb, a project that initially threatened to ruin the firm when its windows began popping out and crashing to the ground.

Pei’s projects, though sharing in some way his love of geometric forms, were varied in style but not on the cutting edge. He said he liked to compare his approach to architecture to the music of Bach _ “constant variations of a simple theme.”

“I am not an architect who has a body of theories,” he said in “First Person Singular,” Peter Rosen’s 1997 documentary on Pei. “I don’t think that’s how my architecture should be looked at.

“But if you are true to yourself, you have a signature, and the signature will come out.”

Witold M. Rybczynski, emeritus professor of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania, said of Pei in 2004: “He doesn’t get swept up in fashions. He has an approach to architecture that is sort of abstract and geometrical and volumetric, and he sticks to that.”

And Ralph Lerner, the late professor of architecture at Princeton University, said that while Pei “tended to work within a relatively narrow idiom,” he “mined that very deeply.”

Pei’s virtually unmatched ability to move his and his firm’s designs off the drawing board and onto construction sites was due to the superiority of their designs. But, as the scion of a prominent banking family in China, he also had the elegant bearing and cultural refinement that enabled him to move comfortably in the milieu of the clients who could afford his projects.

One of Pei’s last major projects in the United States was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, completed in 1995.

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