In memoriam – Ieoh Ming Pei (1917-2019), better known as IM Pei and best known for reviving the Louvre in Paris with a glass pyramid
Pritzker 1983 laureate IM Pei passed away on 16th May, 2019, leaving behind a legacy as one of the most prolific architects of the 20th century
“Contemporary architects tend to impose modernity on something. There is a certain concern for history but it’s not very deep. I understand that time has changed, we have evolved. But I don’t want to forget the beginning. A lasting architecture has to have roots.” - IM Pei
The Louvre, pride of Paris, lights up every evening as the backdrop to the once-criticised, now-iconic glass pyramid that dominates the central square – an avant-garde creation by Ieoh Ming Pei, better known as IM Pei. His aforementioned words, spoken in the context of his most eminent and controversial project, highlight his design approach – sometimes choosing to blend in, sometimes breaking the wheel entirely.
The legendary architect was born in Guangzhou, China in 1917, and moved to the USA to pursue further studies at Pennsylvania, MIT and Harvard. He deviated to serve as a research scientist for the US Government during WWII, then returned to architecture and founded his own firm in 1955.
Pei was influenced by his association with the Bauhaus architects - Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe, to name just a couple. Pei’s National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado (1967) embodies the Modernist principles of efficiency and sophistication. A volumetric collection of vertical forms of local sandstone, the complex merges with the surrounding Rocky Mountains. His penchant for adding a dramatic flair to the existing context was first explored here, with the mile-long winding driveway to the building.
The JFK Presidential Library and Museum (1979) was Pei’s first foray into iconic architecture. The core of the structure consists of a triangular tower rising above a base of simple geometric volumes. Constructed in concrete, steel and glass, the unpretentious aura of the building was the realisation of Kennedy’s vision of a library that was accessible yet stately.
The renovation of the Musee du Louvre (1988) is considered to be the pinnacle of Pei’s career as well as the amalgamation of his classical sense of form combined with his contemporary command over technology. In the centre of Napoleon Square, he introduced a steel and glass pyramid, first proposed with the JFK Library, to serve as the underground entrance and anteroom skylight. The intervention, which drew widespread vilification, intended to serve as homage to the rigid geometry of the famous French landscape architect André Le Nôtre as well as to the museum’s vast collection of Egyptian artefacts.
Regardless of the debate surrounding it, the pyramid is an acknowledged structural marvel. The 71ft-tall structure is comprised of customised clear-glass panes, held together by metal links within a steel frame. The transparency intends to merge the modern with the ancient; adding a permanent symbol of the contemporary against one of the cynosures of the Parisian landscape. It is, as Pei himself stated, ‘architecture for the ages’ by a visionary whose life’s work is now intertwined with the history of the Louvre. We, at Architect and Interiors India, salute his prodigious creativity and contribution to the world of architecture.