NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — I.M. Pei, the globe-trotting architect who shaped the look of famous landmarks in New York and around the world has died at age 102.
Pei’s death was confirmed Thursday by Marc Diamond, a spokesman for the architect’s New York firm, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. One of Pei’s sons, Li Chung Pei, told The New York Times his father had died overnight.
The architectural legend not only brought Manhattan’s Jacob Javits Convention Center to life, but revived the Louvre with a giant glass pyramid in Paris and captured the spirit of rebellion at the multi-shaped Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
Pei’s works ranged from the trapezoidal addition to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the chiseled towers of the National Center of Atmospheric Research that blend in with the reddish mountains in Boulder, Colorado.
His buildings added elegance to landscapes worldwide with their powerful geometric shapes and grand spaces. Among them are the striking steel and glass Bank of China skyscraper in Hong Kong and the Fragrant Hill Hotel near Beijing.
Ieoh Ming Pei was born April 26, 1917, in Canton, China, the son of a banker. He later said, “I did not know what architecture really was in China. At that time, there was no difference between an architect, a construction man, or an engineer.”
Pei came to the United States in 1935 with plans to study architecture, then return to practice in China. However, World War II and the revolution in China prevented him from coming back.
During the war, Pei worked for the National Defense Research Committee. As an “expert” in Japanese construction, his job was to determine the best way to burn down Japanese towns. “It was awful,” he later said.
In 1948, New York City real estate developer William Zeckendorf hired Pei as his director of architecture. During this period, Pei worked on many large urban projects and gained experience in areas of building development, economics and construction.
Some of his early successes included the Mile High Center office building in Denver, the Kips Bay Plaza Apartments in Manhattan, and the Society Hill apartment complex in Philadelphia.
Pei established his own architectural firm in 1955, a year after he became a U.S. citizen. He remained based in New York City. Among the firm’s accomplishments are the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
His work spanned decades, starting in the late 1940s and continuing through the new millennium. Two of his last major projects, the Museum of Islamic Art, located on an artificial island just off the waterfront in Doha, Qatar, and the Macau Science Center, in China, opened in 2008 and 2009.
Pei painstakingly researched each project, studying its use and relating it to the environment. But he also was interested in architecture as art — and the effect he could create.
“At one level my goal is simply to give people pleasure in being in a space and walking around it,” he said. “But I also think architecture can reach a level where it influences people to want to do something more with their lives. That is the challenge that I find most interesting.”
Pei, who as a schoolboy in Shanghai was inspired by its building boom in the 1930s, immigrated to the United States and studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. He advanced from his early work of designing office buildings, low-income housing and mixed-used complexes to a worldwide collection of museums, municipal buildings and hotels.
He fell into a modernist style blending elegance and technology, creating crisp, precise buildings.
His big break was in 1964, when he was chosen over many prestigious architects, such as Louis Kahn and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, to design the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library in Boston.
At the time, Jacqueline Kennedy said all the candidates were excellent, “But Pei! He loves things to be beautiful.” The two became friends.
A slight, unpretentious man, Pei developed a reputation as a skilled diplomat, persuading clients to spend the money for his grand-scale projects and working with a cast of engineers and developers.
Another building designed by Pei’s firm — the John Hancock Tower in Boston — had a questionable future in the early 1970s when dozens of windows cracked and popped out, sending glass crashing to the sidewalks, during the time the building was under construction.
No challenge seemed to be too great for Pei, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which sits on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. Pei, who admitted he was just catching up with the Beatles, researched the roots of rock ‘n’ roll and came up with an array of contrasting shapes for the museum. He topped it off with a transparent tent-like structure, which was “open — like the music,” he said.
In 1988, President Reagan honored him with a National Medal of Arts. He also won the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, 1983, and the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal, 1979. President George H.W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992.
Pei officially retired in 1990 but continued to work on projects. Two of his sons, Li Chung Pei and Chien Chung Pei, former members of their father’s firm, formed Pei Partnership Architects in 1992. Their father’s firm, previously I.M. Pei and Partners, was renamed Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.
Pei’s wife, Eileen, who he married in 1942, died in 2014. A son, T’ing Chung, died in 2003. Besides sons Chien Chung Pei and Li Chung Pei, he is survived by a daughter, Liane.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)