Throwback Thursday: An Architect Of His Time

Three years ago (April, 13, 2013) yesterday, I did the first post of a series of I. M. Pei entitled “An Architect Of His Time”. In about two weeks he will be 99 years old.

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. Pei Pei 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

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 of the Meyerson Symphony Center are from

Mr. Pei believes, “Building has to be something relate to people at that particular time and place.”. I think this says much of his vision;and Mr. Pei created the future of his architecture. 

We had the privilege of visiting the above three buildings and many others designed by Mr. Pei. Listening to the symphony in the Meyerson Symphony Center was our grand experience.

Thank you for visiting! 🙂

49 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: An Architect Of His Time

  1. IM Pei designed a bank building in Baltimore — a great black glass tower — back when urban renewal was a new thing for our city. I discovered the name of the architect in, of all places, a dictionary. There was an entry for the architect and next to is was the Baltimore building. Thanks for your interesting post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for letting me know the black glass tower in Baltimore, Mary! I got interested in his designs when we lived in Boulder, and our backyard was facing the building (campus) he designed for NCAR.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Such a lovely tribute to the venerable Mr. Pei, Amy. The quotes, the photos, his ideas–all very moving. I have not seen any of these buildings, and they are all so majestic. How wonderful that Jackie Kennedy lifted his career.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I so appreciate your comment, Jet. I’ve learned about Mr. Pei and his works through reading and the video produced by Peter Rosen was well done. Thank you for letting me share it with you.
      The building of JFK is completely different from his original idea, he had to change his designs numerous times, due to the location changes and budget.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Stunning architecture Amy and the info you shared was so interesting! Always love to learn new things and see the beauty from all over. They symphony hall looks like a scene from Star Trek. Guess that is where they go their idea from. 😆


    • Thank you for spending time here, Julie. I guess a remarkable architect has to know how to solve problems and use what you get (space, resources…) in addition to designing.

      Liked by 1 person

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