Lessons from I.M. Pei

architecture life

I.M. Pei was a Chinese-American architect best known for his striking geometric designs including the Louvre Pyramid in Paris and the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., among many others. He had a long career that spanned from 1952-2009 and his buildings are all over the world - in big cities and small places. He died in 2019 at the age of 102.

His work is very inspiring to me, specifically the asymmetric and playful spaces. They draw you in and keep you looking and finding patterns and angles. I was completely in awe when I first experienced the East Building in D.C. It was like meandering through a complex sculpture. It stands on its own as an experiential work of art. Carter Wisemen in IM. Pei: A Profile in American Architecture says, "Pei had brought together the intellectual purity of geometry and the sculptural potential of people in motion to create a work of animated architecture."

I had no idea until I moved to Dallas that he designed five buildings here. I live in-between two of them, and can walk to the other three. I decided it was time to learn more about this person, so I went to the library and checked out I.M. Pei: Mandarin of Modernism by Michael T. Cannell and I.M. Pei: A Profile in American Architecture by Carter Wiseman.

As fun as it was to read about his accolades, it was even more interesting to read about the human behind the designs and the realities of creating. A few great reminders I took away from learning about his experiences:

  • Things can take longer than expected. You can only predict so much before you actually put your hands in motion. 
  • You don't actually know how everything will turn out, especially when you're taking risks. Don't let that stop you. 
  • Sometimes things fall apart, and you have to start over or find new ways. 
  • Not everyone will like your work and that's ok. 

As an artist, I know these realities very well and my human nature is to try and avoid them. But really, they are all part of the creative process and will teach you something in the end.   

A few pictures from my visits:

The Louvre Pyramid, Paris:

The East Building of the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.:

 The Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas TX:

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