David and Art - "I. M. Pei"

May 27, 2019

From Paris to Dallas, architect I.M. Pei created timeless art in the buildings he designed.

Growing up in Dallas, and having heard of architecture, I knew the name I. M. Pei before I had any inkling of his story and his significance in the world of art. (more)

I think the first time I ever heard his name was when he made international news for designing a controversial new entrance for the Louvre in Paris. His striking glass pyramids set down in the plaza of that ancient palace triggered a firestorm of confusion and protest when it was unveiled in 1984.  I was shocked to find this controversial architect had designed the Dallas City Hall in 1977.  Was the art world really that small?

Pei’s life was emblematic of that globalized world.  He born in Canton, China in 1917.  He remembered watching with fascination the construction of a tall hotel when he lived in Shanghai the 1920s.  He moved to the United States in 1935 and received a degree in architecture from MIT in 1940. He opened his own firm 15 years later.

In addition to the pyramids of the Louvre, some of his other striking works include the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, the John F.  Kennedy library in Boston, and perhaps my personal favorite, the Meyerson Symphony center in Dallas.   In addition to the Meyerson and the city hall, Pei designed three other landmark buildings in Dallas, including Fountain Place, widely described as one of the most beautiful skyscrapers in the world.  The Dallas Morning News called him the “architect of the Dallas skyline,” proudly connecting Big D with the wider art world.

In 1988 he received a National Medal of the Arts from President Reagan and through the years he received pretty much every award and honor available in his field.  The New York Times has called his work “a careful balance of the cutting edge and the conservative”

When the groundbreaking architect Zaha Hadid died back in 2016 I reflected that I’d never seen an architect whose work was more obviously artistic than hers, and once you look at her buildings you’ll never wonder whether the work of a great architect should be considered art.  I think the same applies to Pei.

I.M. Pei died earlier this month in New York City having created a new artistic vision that speaks even today to people around the world in such far flung and diverse locales as Paris, Doha, Hong Kong, and in Dallas.  He once remarked that his goal was simply to give people pleasure in being in a space and walking around it.   But, he added, "I also think architecture can reach a level where it influences people to want to do something more with their lives. That is the challenge that I find most interesting."  That is a key part of what made his work art. He was 102.