A Profile of Asian American Architect I.M. Pei

I.M._Pei_wideBorn in Guangzhou, China on April, 26, 1916, he was the son of a prominent Chinese banker. Traveling to America at the age of 17, he enrolled in college. I.M. Pei began his studies at UPenn’s architecture school but soon transferred to MIT. It was there that he earned his degree in 1940. In addition to his degree, he was awarded the RIBA gold medal, the MIT Traveling Fellowship, and the Alpha Rho Chi medal.

Two years later he would enter the Harvard Graduate School of Design where he would study under the auspices of Walter Gropius. After a brief hiatus working for the National Defense Commission at Princeton, he would return to finish his Masters In Architecture in 1946. William Zechendorf would offer him the post of Director at Webb and Knapp, a real estate development firm that culminated in many cross-country design and planning forays.

While he travelled broadly in post-war Europe, Pei would eventually return to the United States and become a naturalized citizen in 1954. Only a year later, he would form his own design firm, I.M. Pei and Associates, which would endure through many incarnations over the decades.

Pei is renowned for his beautiful institutional designs. Most well-known among the churches, museums, hospitals, university and government buildings to his credit are the J.F.K. Library in Boston and the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in D.C.. In all, he is responsible for 30 of the most well-known municipal structures today.

His recent work includes a number of hotels and museums scattered across three continents. The Four Seasons Hotel in Manhattan, the Grande Louvre in Paris, the Miho museum in Shiga, and the Bank of China megascraper in Hong Kong are some of his more recent offerings. He has designed two buildings in his native China with his signature fusion of stylistic elements intended to signify a new Chinese sensibility–old and new in harmony.

Pei’s commitment to both the arts and education is evident in more than his choice of architectural design projects. He is an avid member of many visiting panels at MIT and Harvard, in addition to his involvement with many governmental programs. He has been the recipient of numerous professional honors throughout his highly distinguished and distinctive career. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and holds similarly esteemed positions on architectural, scientific, and artistic boards both in America and abroad. His professional honors are as many and as varied.