Ieoh Ming Pei, the Louvre Pyramid and much more

Ieoh Ming Pei
, American architect born in China, author of skyscrapers, museums and large commercial complexes, will first of all go down in history as the author of a subtle and essential building: the steel and glass pyramid that gives access to the Louvre Museum in Paris, inaugurated in 1989. It can not be said that this was the most controversial building in Paris: the construction of the Beaubourg Center, the work of Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, inaugurated in 1977, provoked a veritable avalanche of criticism and, also, six legal proceedings: Today is the great Parisian attraction. But the Pei's pyramid – twenty meters high, formed by 673 laminated glass panels, some rhomboidal, others triangular, and located among the venerable pavilions Richelieu, Denon and Sully – was beaten by the most conservative opinion as an outrage to the classic courtyard Napoleon of the Louvre.

Time would reveal that his enemies were not right: the building became the new symbol of the museum and, more importantly, greatly facilitated the access of its ten million annual visitors. It is necessary to emphasize that the American architect had the unwavering support of the president François Mitterrand, whose architectural "grands travaux" earned him the nickname of "pharaoh". Pei did nothing but confirm it by projecting his pyramid. Or, better said, its pyramids: the most photographed one is surrounded by three smaller ones, and it contains in its interior another inverted one that orders the underground vestibule.

Pei entered the architecture through the big door

Pei died at dawn yesterday at his home in New York, at 102 years old. He was born in Canton in 1917, the son of a banker. At age 18, he went to the United States to study in Philadelphia, then to MIT and Harvard, with Walter Gropius among his professors. In 1948 he was hired by the powerful firm Webb & Knapp, which allowed him to enter architecture through the big door: large scale projects in which he quickly accumulated experience, and which were his springboard for, in 1955, becoming independent and founding his own signature IM Pei and Associates, later renamed Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, and currently, with the Pei Partnership Architects rubric, headed by his son Li Chung. (Henry N. Cobb, former partner of Pei, signed the World Trade Center in Barcelona).

Pyramids aside, the architecture of Pei, materialized in fifty buildings in the USA, Europe and Asia, has been characterized by its geometric precision, its treatment of light and, often, the forcefulness of its volumes. This is the case of one of his most appreciated works, the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington (1978), of marble and glass, probably the best modern architectural proposal in the Mall of the American capital. The John Hancock Tower of Boston (1976), an elegant and minimalist glass monolith, was also relevant to his talent. Or the John Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston (1979), a building formed by a solid triangular block and a glazed atrium no less, Jacqueline Kennedy's personal order, which Pei always valued as one of his most important works. Or the futuristic and long-lasting headquarters of the Bank of China in Hong Kong (1989), with the characteristic white triangles of its external structure … One of the last works of his study -Pei formally retired at 80 years old- was the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha (Qatar) in 2008, where, without abandoning its language, it reflected local influences (as had also been reflected in the Miho Musuem (1997) in Kyoto.) Throughout his career, dominated by large-scale commissions scale, Pei also made social housing, although in smaller proportion.

Photo of the Chinese-American architect Ieoh Ming Pei after being awarded the East and West prize of the Erwin Wickert Foundation

Photo of the Chinese-American architect Ieoh Ming Pei after being awarded the East and West prize of the Erwin Wickert Foundation
(Harald Tittel / EFE)

The deceased architect received the Pritzker Prize, the highest global architectural distinction, in its fifth edition, that of 1983. Until then, only two other North American architects had obtained it: Philip Johnson, who in his capacity as living legend of the American guild inaugurated the in 1979, and Kevin Roche (1982), one of the few colleagues who could dispute Pei the scepter of the great corporate architecture. "Pei's architecture," said the spokespersons of the award, "is characterized by its faith in modernity, humanized by subtlety, lyricism and beauty."

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