by Claudia Luther / © 2019, Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
I.M. Pei was fascinated with the geometric swoops and dips of the buildings in Guangzhou, the bustling seaport near Hong Kong where he grew up in the shadows of the city’s avant-garde architecture and towering skyscrapers.
He was equally fascinated with the kings, presidents and autocrats who could bankroll such elegant buildings.
In a career that spanned decades and entire continents, Pei became one of the most distinguished architects of his time, his work on public display from Paris to Los Angeles.
Out of the public eye for much of the last decade, [Pei] died [earlier this year] at the age of 102.
Pei, who won the coveted Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1983, had a client list that was a who’s who of 20th-century notables, including French President Francois Mitterrand for the Louvre.
As the head of a prestigious architectural firm based in New York City, Pei oversaw dozens of well-known projects, including the now widely admired 60-story John Hancock Tower in Boston, designed by partner Henry N. Cobb.
Pei’s projects, though sharing in some way his love of geometric forms, were varied in style but not on the cutting edge. He said he liked to compare his approach to architecture to the music of Bach—“constant variations of a simple theme.”
“I am not an architect who has a body of theories,” he said in First Person Singular, Peter Rosen’s 1997 documentary on Pei. “But if you are true to yourself, you have a signature, and the signature will come out.”
Pei’s virtually unmatched ability to move his and his firm’s designs off the drawing board and onto construction sites was due to the superiority of their designs. But, as the scion of a prominent banking family in China, he also had the elegant bearing and cultural refinement that enabled him to move comfortably in the milieu of the clients who could afford his projects.
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