Thoughts on I.M. Pei
On the 100th birthday of I.M. Pei, WMF United States Program Director Frank Sanchis shares his thoughts on the architect’s legacy and WMF’s new social media campaign on modern architecture, #ModernCentury.
While it is coincidental that the 100th birthday of celebrated Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei falls on the day of Modern Century’s inauguration, it is completely appropriate. His sleek commercial buildings, dazzling museums and jewel-like smaller buildings earned him the coveted Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest award, in 1983.
Usually identified with such famous modern buildings as the Pyramide du Louvre in Paris, the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Bank of China in Hong Kong and the Kennedy Library in Boston, Pei was also interested in and worked on less glamorous projects, like a block plan for Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn and a drive-in bank in Houston. His modern apartment buildings, such as Society Hill Towers in Philadelphia and Kips Bay Plaza in New York, remain sought after places to live after half a century from their completion.
Pei’s buildings have done well in terms of their preservation, with few demolitions or radical alterations having occurred. An exception is The Sundrome, the National Airlines Terminal at JFK Airport in New York City, constructed in 1970 and demolished in 2011 by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which turned a blind eye to its handsome proportions and innovative self-supporting all-glass walls, to make room for a new terminal. Even Pei’s Brutalist style architecture, such as the L’Enfant Plaza complex in Washington, have fared better than the Brutalist designs of his contemporaries, like Paul Rudolph, which have been under assault, a matter to be continued in another Modern Century blog.