When one thinks of the name I.M. Pei today, one's mind immediately goes to the Pyramid at the Louvre, Paris, or the Bank of China building in Hong Kong; perhaps one might think of the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. My first thought always goes to the Fine Arts Museum in Bloomington, Indiana, home of my undergraduate college - this building was still considered 'the new museum' when I started in 1982, and it became one of my favourite places on campus, not just because of the glorious collections housed there, but because of the interesting feel of the building architecturally, both inside and out. The kinds of angles and lines on the exterior are reminiscent of other gallery work of Pei; the interior with high-vaulted, complex-girder bounded windows as a lobby between the particular galleries on separate floors (mostly without windows, the better to protect the artwork) is a wonder to sit and contemplate.
This book traces I.M. Pei from his early days as a student (primarily at M.I.T. and Harvard) and protege of Zeckendorf, 'the most flamboyant real estate developer of his time' - Zeckendorf had one of the first car phones in the United States, almost half a century before cell phones would become commonplace. Zeckendorf and Pei made for an interesting team, going from bigger to bigger projects all over the world. However, in the end, Pei had to strike out on his own.
He had already begun to do this on projects like the Luce Memorial Chapel in Taiwan, whose angles and interior design were both inspired and inspirational, showing an unusual harmony of geometric form.
This book traces Pei through early struggles with less inspiring projects that he nonetheless managed to give creative flair, through to later projects that, having gained an international reputation, he could finally command with great creative freedom. He was now a recognised artist. He continued to do 'regular' work for corporations, schools, housing and municipal organisations, but he could also command the 'plum' jobs of significant and lasting structures.
Many of his works show a genius not only of design for the structures themselves but also an appreciation of the environment in which they are situated. Examples of this include the towers in Philadelphia, which soar over the much older buildings in the city without detracting from their own variety of 'Revolutionary' flair, and the Fragrant Hill Hotel in Beijing, which incorporated the Chinese sense of interconnectedness of buildings with gardens and nature.
This is a beautifully done book, with hundreds of illustrations throughout a text that is both informative and accessible, interesting in being written as a story and set of reminiscences rather than a straight architectural treatise.