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Asian American for the Ages


By: Lourdes G. Mon


In keeping with the tradition of Asian American Heritage Month this May, I would like to write about a world-renowned Asian American architect, Ieoh Ming Pei, better known as I M Pei, who died in 2019 at the age of 102 years old. He has distinguished himself across the globe as a prolific architect, with unique designs, none of which were similar or of duplications. A column like mine does not justify to write everything about the professional life of I M Pei, but a glimpse for our readers might stimulate their desire to research and read about this distinguished Asian American man with his incredible and acclaimed achievements.

I M Pei was born in Guangzhou, China (3rd largest city behind Beijing & Shanghai). He came to the United States at age 18, and studied at the University of Pennsylvania, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and finally at Harvard University. He met his wife Eileen Loo while they were both studying at Harvard. They got married in 1942 until her death in 2014. I M Pei died five years later.

I would like to link him a bit with the City of Chicago in all his involvement of urban projects. He has contributed to the Hyde Park Redevelopment on the south side of Chicago, in the 1950s, along with a fellow architect Harry Weese. He and Mr. Weese’s designs included a combination of townhouses and distinctive twin apartment towers, with emphasis on suburban appeal. Today, a walk through Hyde Park is historic.

Mr. Pei’s other designs include the Mile High Center in Denver, Colorado, and Place Ville-Marie in Montreal, Canada. He designed arts facilities in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Rochester, Syracuse University, New York University, and at the University of Hawaii.

Mr. I M Pei’s legacy are his designs that are admired across continents, in North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Some of them here in the US are: L’Enfant Plaza Hotel & The National Gallery of Art (East Building), Washington DC; John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York; John F. Kennedy Memorial Library at Harvard University, the John Hancock Tower, and the Boston Museum of Arts (west wing) at Nestle Corporate Headquarters, Boston, Massachusetts; and, El Paso Tower, Texas. In Asia, he designed the Miho Museum, Kyoto, Japan, that is carved into the mountain; Bank of China Tower, Hongkong, and in the Middle East, the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar, which was a product of his admiration of Egypt’s Mosque of Ahmad Ibn Tulun.

My favorite of them all is the glass pyramid design at the entrance of the world-famous The Louvre in Paris, France. It is exquisite and elegant by all measures.

Architect I M Pei received numerous awards including the following major ones.

The AIA Gold Medal (1979) awarded by the American Institute of Architects “in recognition of his significant body of work of lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture.” It is the Institute’s highest award.

The Pritzker Architecture Prize (1983) is awarded annually to “honor a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.” This award was founded by Jay A. & Cindy Pritzker and is funded by the Pritzker family and sponsored by the Hyatt Foundation. It is considered as one of the world’s premier architecture prizes, often referred to as the Nobel Prize of architecture. Mr. Pei received a prize money of $100,000 which he used to start a scholarship fund for Chinese students of architecture in America.

In 1993, Mr. Pei was awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton. It is the highest civilian award given by a United States president recognizing individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors”.

In conclusion, it is challenging to interpret the intentions of architectural designs, but it is much easier to admire what it beautiful.


I M Pei in front of The Louvre, Paris, France (Getty Images)

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