As the tributes and memorials are pouring in, the architecture world remembers the life and career of I.M. Pei, who passed away on May 16th, 2019. He was a major influence within and outside of architecture. There are an abundance of articles and features that highlight his influential work and approach to design. The impact that Pei had on future generations can not be undersold. Pei’s work and legacy made him a celebrity that very few from the design world can ever realize.
Perhaps his most famous design is the pyramid at the Louvre in Paris, which is elegant and artistic in it’s own right. However, the Kennedy Library is the most accurate representation of the architectural process that architects encounter. The design process was contentious and frustrating for Pei. Multiple changes to the scope of work, delays, and jurisdictional interference derailed Pei’s early concepts.
Originally, he wanted to create a giant glass pyramid, similar to the Louvre, but opposition to how the style and forms related to the nearby buildings led to that vision being scraped. As the years passed, many designs and re-designs proposed, more delays occurred, and conflicts dragged the project into the territory of weighing Pei down. Eventually, the library was approved and constructed even though the final design was far removed from his original vision. Pei admitted he was unsatisfied with the final product, but his talent and expertise created a beautiful building that marks what Pei still considered “the most important commission” of his career. Only a talent like Pei is able to create this striking of a library with all the problems and baggage that accompanied it.
There is no way to do justice to his life and career in tributes, articles. or blog posts. However, every working or aspiring architect should pay tribute to such an important figure in our industry. As cliche as it may sound, the architecture community lost a legend when Pei passed away. But, his work and influence will live on.