Archive for the 'I.M. Pei' Category


Museum of Islamic Art

DOHA, Qatar — There is nothing timid about the ambitions of the new Museum of Islamic Art that opens here next week. Rising on its own island just off the city’s newly developed esplanade, it is the centerpiece of an enormous effort to transform Qatar into an arts destination. The inaugural festivities Saturday, including a performance by the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, attracted art world luminaries from around the globe.

Viewed under the light of a spectacular fireworks display, the museum’s colossal geometric form harks back to a time when Islamic art and architecture were at the nexus of world culture. At the same time, it conveys a hope of reconnecting again.

The building seems austere by the standards of the attention-grabbing forms that we have come to associate with Gulf cities like Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Designed by I.M. Pei, 91, who has said it is his last major cultural building, it recalls a time when architectural expression was both more earnest and optimistic, and the rift between modernity and tradition had yet to reach full pitch.

The museum, which houses manuscripts, textiles, ceramics and other works assembled mostly over the last 20 years, has emerged as one of the world’s most encyclopedic collections of Islamic art. The origin of its artifacts ranges from Spain to Egypt to Iran, Iraq, Turkey, India and Central Asia.

Among the exquisite works on view at the opening were a bronze Andalusian fountainhead in the form of a doe with a heart-shaped mouth and an ornate spherical brass plate from Persia or Mesopotamia that was used to measure the position of the stars. (Both date from the 10th century.)

Taking his cue from the diversity of the collections, Pei sought to create a structure that would embody the “essence of Islamic architecture.”

He spent months traveling across the Middle East searching for inspiration. He visited the ninth-century Ahmad ibn Tulun Mosque in Cairo, a sober structure organized around a central court with a temple-like central fountain, as well as ancient fortresses in Tunisia.

“Islam was one religion I did not know,” Pei said in an interview. “So I studied the life of Muhammad. I went to Egypt and Tunisia. I became very interested in the architecture of defense, in fortifications. It is a very important piece of Islamic architecture.”

“The architecture is very strong and simple,” he added. “There is nothing superfluous.”

The result is a structure whose imposing simplicity is brought to life by the play of light and shadow under the Gulf’s blazing sun. Pei visited several proposed sites in Doha before settling on the site just off the end of the seafront esplanade.

Worried that his building might one day be hemmed in by new construction, he asked Qatar’s emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, chairman of the museum’s board of trustees, to build him a private island so that his monument would be isolated from the rest of the city.

“I worried a lot about what will come after,” Pei said. “Even a beautiful piece of work can be overshadowed, destroyed by something else.”

For now, “Doha in many ways is virginal,” he said. “There is no real context there, no real life unless you go into the souk. I had to create my own context. It was very selfish.”

The result is a powerful Cubist composition of square and octagonal blocks stacked atop one another and culminating in a central tower. A row of giant palm trees leads to the island. Inside, 3,800 square meters, or 41,000 square feet, of galleries are organized around a towering atrium capped by a dome, with a narrow beam of light descending from its central oculus.

Seen from across the waters of the harbor, its massive sand-colored stone blocks have an ageless quality, like the Tunisian fortresses it is modeled after.

“The museum is an object,” Pei said. “It should be treated as a piece of sculpture.”


I.M. Pei

Ieoh Ming Pei (貝聿銘) (born April 26, 1917), commonly known by his initials I. M. Pei, is a Chinese architect. Although he refuses to apply labels to his own work, he is considered a master of modern architecture. Born in Guangzhou and raised in Hong Kong and Shanghai, Pei drew artistic inspiration at an early age from the gardens at Suzhou. He was fascinated by movies from the United States, especially those of Buster Keaton and Bing Crosby, and taught himself English by reading the Bible and novels by Charles Dickens.

In 1935, Pei moved to the United States and enrolled in the architecture school at the University of Pennsylvania, but quickly transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was unhappy with the focus on Beaux-Arts architecture, and spent his free time researching the emerging masters of modern architecture, especially Le Corbusier. After graduating, he joined the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) and became friends with the Bauhaus architects Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. In 1942, he married Eileen Loo, who had introduced him to the GSD community. They have been married for over fifty years, and have four children (two of whom also became architects).

Pei spent ten years working with New York real estate magnate William Zeckendorf before establishing his own independent design firm. Originally called I. M. Pei & Associates, the firm evolved over many years to its current incarnation as Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. Among the early projects on which Pei took the lead were the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington, DC and the Green Building at MIT. He created his first widely recognized signature building when he designed the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado. The recognition from this project led to his selection for the John F. Kennedy Library in Massachusetts. He went on to design Dallas City Hall and the East Building of the National Gallery of Art.

He returned to China for the first time in 1974, and agreed to design a hotel at Fragrant Hills. The project became something of a disaster for Pei, but he returned to East Asia again fifteen years later to design a skyscraper in Hong Kong for the Bank of China. In the early 1980s, Pei was the focus of a huge controversy when he designed a glass-and-steel pyramid for the Louvre museum in Paris. Critical and public opinion eventually turned in Pei’s favor, but the experience was difficult for the architects and project coordinators. Pei later returned to the world of the arts by designing the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, the Miho Museum in Japan, and the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar.

Pei has won a wide variety of prizes and awards in the field of architecture, including the AIA Gold Medal in 1979, the first Praemium Imperiale for Architecture in 1989, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in 2003. In 1983 he won the Pritzker Prize, sometimes called the Nobel Prize of architecture. In its citation, the jury wrote: “Ieoh Ming Pei has given this century some of its most beautiful interior spaces and exterior forms…. His versatility and skill in the use of materials approach the level of poetry.”

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My Architect: A Son’s Jouney

My Architect: A Son’s Journey is a 2003 documentary film about the American architect Louis Kahn. Kahn led an extraordinary career and left three families behind when he died of a heart attack in a Penn Station bathroom.

One of his most memorable quotes is “When I went to high school, I had a teacher in the arts, who was head of the department of Central High, William Grey, and he gave me a course in Architecture, the only course in the high school I am sure, in Greek, Roman, Renaissance, Egyptian, and Gothic Architecture, and at that point two of my colleagues and I realized that only Architecture was to be my life, and how accidental our existences are, really, and how full of influence by circumstance.” Louis I. Kahn, quote from the documentary film “My Architect, A Son’s Journey” a film by his son Nathaniel Kahn.

The film was made by Louis Kahn’s illegitimate son Nathaniel Kahn, and features interviews with many giants of modern architecture, including I.M. Pei, Anne Tyng and Philip Johnson. Throughout the film, Kahn visits all of his father’s buildings including Yale Center for British Art, Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban and the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad.

June 2018
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