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I. M. Pei and the New Suzhou Museum

Updated on October 28, 2010

The Architect

I. M. Pei has an impressive resumé. His work on the Pyramids of the Louvre in Paris have garnered much attention. But equally impressive is his work on the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH, and the Museum of Islamic Arts in Doha, Qatar. Another of Pei's works, The Gateway in Singapore, is an intriguing complex that creates a sort of optical illusion as you walk around it. From certain angles, the buildings appear to be paper-thin.

Born in 1917 in Guangzhou, China, Pei left China at age 18 to study architecture in the US, where he attended both Harvard and MIT. An illustrious career followed, in which he designed prominent buildings in cities all around the world. What is most impressive about his work is the way he fits it into the local cultural tradition of the site where the building is to stand, but with a modern flair.

the pond and rockery setting around which the museum is built
the pond and rockery setting around which the museum is built
glass pyramid-shaped ceiling inside the entrance hall of the New Suzhou Museum
glass pyramid-shaped ceiling inside the entrance hall of the New Suzhou Museum

The New Suzhou Museum

The New Suzhou Museum, opened in 2006 in the city from which Pei's family hails, is a prime example of Pei's ability to incorporate rich tradition with contemporary style. The structure has the distinctive feel of the traditional Chinese gardens for which the city of Suzhou is famous. The techniques of framing and expansion central to Chinese gardening are to be seen everywhere in the way the building is structured.

Upon entering the museum, one is greeted by a large window opening onto a pond. In the pond are countless koi swimming about, and behind lies a rock formation that appears to be a mountain range off in the distance behind a lake.

Sheltering viewers of the pond is a structure that feels very typical of Pei's work, a large pyramid-shaped enclosure in the ceiling. It serves as a beautiful piece, and allows a flow of natural lighting that makes the atmosphere of the hall just right.

Wandering through the museum, you will continually be greeted by such techniques of framing and highlighting, all built into the structure of the facility itself. It is a truly magnificent piece by an amazing architect.

©2009 Shelly Bryant

I.M. Pei: Complete Works
I.M. Pei: Complete Works
read more about I. M. Pei's impressive work around the world


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