I. M. Pei An Architect of His Time

I. M. Pei is an architect of his time.                                                                                                                                                                                                      — Peter Rosen, Producer of “First Person Singular: I.M. Pei”

Architecture is there to enhance life. It is not just an object in space to look at …  It has to contain human activity. It has to make that activity noble.  – I. M. PeiPei image

Leoh Ming (I.M.) Pei  (born in China, April 26, 1917), a Chinese-American architect, is known as a master of modern architecture.

I want to use this mini series to give a brief view of Mr. Pei’s  vision, and challenges he encountered, the breakthrough created, and the difference made through a few of his world-famed architecture designs.

John F. Kennedy Library (Boston, 1964-79)


Challenge: It took ten years just to find a location for the Library.

Among all the giant architects in the world, Pei was unknown, but he was chosen by Jackie Kennedy. During the ten-year site searches, he had to alter his designs numbers of times to accommodate the location changes. Pei had never complained about his frustrations, but his wife said that she could feel his frustrations and disappointments when Pei came home late night, every night.

Nonetheless, after this commission, Pei was lifted to the front page as an architect.

John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, Boston

(Photos are  from Wiki Commons)

Pei’s vision for the JFK Library was “…In the silence of that high, light-drenched space, the visitors will be alone with their thoughts. … In the skyline of his city, in the distant horizons toward which he led us, in the canopy of space into which he launched us, visitors may experience revived hope and promise for the future.”

National Gallery of Art’s East Building (Washington DC,  phase I 1968-78 and phase II 1977-86)

Challenge: Dealing with the space limitation and the awkward shape and uneven size of the land.

national gallery-4

Pei’s solution was to draw a line across of the uneven size of the land to create two triangle shapes. He, then, created endless variations of forms for the building. He said that the result of the triangle module enabled people to go to different directions in the building, which the rectangular module wouldn’t be able to offer.

national gallery east

Pei’s vision was to bring young people, families, and school kids to the museum. It changed the role of the traditional museum that move the museum beyond depositing artworks. “Architecture was able to do something in the domain of public education,” he said, “that has changed what the museum could be.”

east building entrance

–Entrance to the East Side, photos from bluecadet.com

The Meyerson Symphony Center (Dallas, 1981-89)

Pei accepted the commission without any hesitation. “I want to design a symphony hall before I die.”  Because of his love for music, Pei didn’t perceive it as a commission, but a labor of love.

Challenge: How to surround one huge rectangular shape of the symphony hall and what to surround with.


Pei’s vision was to allow people to step into the building as if they were stepping into another world; there, people can set apart from their daily lives.


To achieve that, Pei decided to surround the rectangular tall music hall with various curve walkways. He said, “Because of this unique curve design, when people walk there with windows on one side, they can feel the space is moving with them.”


— –photos are from newconservatory.org

Building has to be something relate to people at that particular time and place.   – I.M. Pei

We had the privilege of visiting these three buildings. Listening to the symphony in the Meyerson Symphony Center was a grand experience.

Thank you so much for spending time here! Hear what Mr. Pei said about the glass pyramid. Stay tuned 🙂

This is Part I of the series

Part II: It Is A Work Of Our Time 

Part III: Still Can Go Home Again

53 thoughts on “I. M. Pei An Architect of His Time

    • It must take special mind and brain, to say the least… Pei also mentioned about persistence and patience more than a few times. Thank you for reading this lengthy post, Jo.


  1. Thank you for noticing the architect. How many of us take the time to give credit for all of the wonderful things we see and do. I have been to the art museum several times, and never even knew the NAME of the architect! Shame on me, but YAY to you! Thanks, Amy!!!


    • Thank you so much for your encouraging comments, Marsha! The story behind makes the building even more meaningful. Thank you for letting me share it with ya!


      • You are so right, Amy. The blogging experience has taught me how important the stories are. Those who include the stories are so much richer than those who just have a beautiful picture. The problem is that it takes so much time to learn about the story behind the pictures!!! 🙂


  2. Amy, what a wonderful post! The pictures are amazing, and the information is inspiring. To make numerous changes to fit new location plans shows great patience…as well as immense talent. Thank you for this post.


    • Thank you for reading it, Marylin. Pei mentioned about persistence and patience more than a couple of times… His vision seems always connect to people.


  3. What a fascinating post, Amy such imagination and inspiring vision… I longed to to see more… so glad you’re going to give us another installment !
    I wonder why architects don’t have their name on their works of art????


    • Thank you, Valerie! I’m encouraged by your comment. 🙂 I always wish they would post the name of the architect onto the building. I have had the same question mark in my mind for a long, long time…


    • Choosing a topic and writing can be a struggle for me. Hearing you kind comment is very much encouraging. I’ve found your posts are always inspiring, and you have shown me a quality post should be.


      • It certainly does not show that writing is a struggle for you, but I know what you mean, as I struggle as well. For me, I think I can be too hard on myself, especially when I read so many fabulous blog posts. I have to remember that I have my own style and be satisfied with that. 🙂


        • I often get intimated by those fabulous blog writers :). Most of my posts are related to history and travels, and I try to minimize online sources (I figure readers can google themselves), so I spend more time to research and verify these facts than polishing my writing. I’m truly grateful that my blog friends are so forgiving. I appreciate your kind words and support, LuAnn!


  4. So nice to see a post on beautiful architecture. Are you an architect?
    We lived in Dallas for a few years so I know I.M Pei because he designed a few buildings in the city – I’ve also had the privilege of listening to a symphony in the Meyerson Symphony Center.
    I still have to see the Kennedy Library


    • I’m not… that’s a nice compliment though, Rosie. I’m hoping to learn to appreciate architecture, and not just “an object in space to look at”.
      I’m happy to hear your wonderful experience in the Meyerson. Thank you so much for visiting this post!


  5. Pingback: Monochrome Madness and Colorful Monotones | The World Is a Book...

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