True to the Chinese translation of his name, Ieoh Ming, ("to inscribe brightly"), modernist architect I. M. Pei (1917-) has indelibly changed the world with his extraordinary buildings.
"Great artists need great clients," he once said.
Born on this day in Canton and raised in Shanghai, at age 18 Pei moved to the United States to study architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard.
Pei was 47 when he charmed Jacqueline Kennedy shortly after her husband's Dallas assassination to design the magnificent Kennedy Library. "Jackie and I interviewed a lot of architects for the Kennedy Library," remembered advisor Jean Kennedy Smith. "When we saw I.M. Pei there was no question he was it. His work is like he is-- the poetry comes through."
As part of the renovation of France's beloved Le Grande Louvre (1981Ė1989), Pei designed a new entrance to the museum in the center of the cour Napoleon which featured a 70-foot glass pyramid. Critics at first were outraged by the design.
"Nobody would question Einstein about relativity," Pei said, "but everyone has an opinion about architecture... Knowing you're right is not enough...If you are right and believe in what you're doing, you have to be patient and take all the blows that come and continue to defend."
The tide turned with the museum's seven chief curators unanimous support of the design. Described by Pei as "reflective and translucent," the pyramid became France's newest monument. "The Pyramid Is Very Beautiful After All," celebrated a Paris news headline.
"One has to persist, and not give up principle," Pei said. I'm probably as demanding as any creative person. But you have to identify the important things, and then press for them, not give up."
Great architecture celebrates mankind.