I. M. Pei

I M Pei ei's name is synonymous with the modern world's architectural wonders. His icons of breathtaking simplicity include the Louvre pyramid in Paris, the John F. Kennedy library in Boston, and the 72-story Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong. More than the long list of honors bestowed on him around the world, Pei's own works stand as the ultimate testaments to his passion for striking a startling bargain between geometry and economics.

     The layers of thought behind Pei's designs is demonstrated by his preparation before accepting the Louvre commission. After being personally appointed by the French President Fran¨ois Mitterand to design a new portal for what is arguably Paris's premiere cultural attraction, Pei insisted that he be given four months to explore, study and plan before accepting the project. In that time, Pei made four separate visits to the Louvre to assess the structure in light of its surroundings, history and symbolic meaning to the people. "You cannot defend your design without knowing what you're designing for" Pei stated emphatically.

     And to think Pei almost became an engineer.

     Ieoh Ming Pei was born in Guangdong Province, China in 1917 to a prominent banker and floutist. From childhood Pei was captured by the designs found in nature. It wasn't until the age of five that Pei caught his first glimpse of Hong Kong's elegant skyscrapers. It was while standing in awe at their sheer size that Pei's passion for architecture was kindled. Pei would eventually harmonize his fascination for nature with his love of structure in some of his century's most insightful architecture.

     In 1935, at the age of 17, Pei moved to the U.S. from China to pursue architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. He became discouraged when he saw that his drawing skills were far below his peers. Pei gave up his dream of architecture and transferred to MIT for a place in engineering. But fate was on his side. Pei soon regained his bearing and graduated from MIT with a bachelor's degree in architecture in 1940.


     During World War II the U.S. Army exploited Pei's MIT degree and knowledge of Asian architecture with orders to devise the most efficient ways of burning down Japan's largely wooden cities. After the war Pei used his G.I. Bill to receive his masters from Harvard. In 1955 he founded the firm of I.M. Pei & Associates (now Pei Cobb Freed & Partners) which would grow to become the world's leading architectural design firm. Its most famous credits include the John Hancock Tower, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the International Trade Center in Washington.

     Pei lives a simple life. He spends his time at home with Eileen Loo (a former student at Harvard Graduate School of Design), his wife of over 60 years. His weekends are filled with the cheerful cries of grandchildren. He devotes two hours every morning scouring The New York Times and the morning news and saves the later morning for communicating with clients in Luxembourg, Berlin and Paris, and continuing his work on the Louvre. A minimum of two afternoons a week are spent in his office at the firm.

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