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How I.M. Pei—renowned architect who died at 102—reinvented the pyramid

I.M. Pei
AP Photo/Pierre Gleizes
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I.M. Pei, the prolific Chinese-born American architect best known for the glass pyramid he designed for the Paris Louvre, has died at 102, per his son’s statement to the New York Times (paywall).

AP Photo/Mark Duncan
I.M. Pei in 1994.

Throughout his lifetime, the Pritzker Prize-winning architect was revered as one of the most legendary in the world. In addition to the Louvre Pyramid, he’s known for a host of iconic buildings, including the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, Dallas City Hall, and dozens of museums, from Boston’s Kennedy Library to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar.

While considered his masterwork, Le Grand Louvre wasn’t Pei’s first—or last—pyramid. While much of his early work was characterized by the darkness of brutalism, his fondness for the airy, illuminated glass pyramids that marked his later works first emerged in 1978 with the east building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. It features several small, scattered glass triangles that serve as skylights.

The Louvre Pyramid building.

In the ’80s, just before the Louvre, Pei added pyramids to two commercial buildings: IBM’s headquarters and its offices in Somers, New York. However, none of these compared in size or ambition to the Louvre Pyramid, a 71-foot glass and metal behemoth completed in 1989.

As Thomas Schielke wrote for Arch Daily in 2017, the Louvre Pyramid “modernized the antique symbol with transparent glass. During the daytime, the sides of the central pyramid reflect the sky. The surrounding water creates a reflecting pool, underlining Pei’s desire to create a light atmosphere and to dematerialize the Egyptian symbol.”

AP Photo/Beth J. Harpaz
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

The last of Pei’s modern, urban pyramids emerged in the ’90s, with the entrance of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, and afterwards the pyramid-shaped pavilions of Japan’s Miho Museum.

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