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The Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, opened in 2008, when Pei was 91. He was coaxed out of retirement for this project, to much initial skepticism: What could this Chinese-American architect, then already an octogenarian, possibly understand about Islamic architecture? It turned out, quite a lot.
Image courtesy of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners
Completed in 1989, the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, which was the tallest in Asia at the time of its opening, is designed to echo bamboo’s structure, and its breathtaking angle across the skyline has changed the geometry of the city up top.
Courtesy of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners
Opened in 1978, the East Wing of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. is considered one of Pei’s masterpieces, a high-wire act that traversed tricky politics and the museum’s original design while giving the public a showpiece glass ceiling and walls that came to a fine edge as sharp as a blade’s.
GE Kidder Smith
The Mesa Laboratory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, opened in Boulder, Colorado in 1966, is so timeless and imbued with a sense of place that it could have been carved out of the mountainside many centuries before.
When it was announced that President Francois Mitterand had chosen Pei, a non-Frenchman—moreover, a man of Asian descent—to renovate and modernize the Louvre, the people of France were aghast. Pei won them over with an ancient, timeless structure (the pyramid) in a modern material (crystal) that cracked open the underground galleries. It was a portal to modernity for an old, tired museum—and now an international icon.
Nathaniel Lieberman. Courtesy Pei Cobb Freed & Partners
The Kennedy Library in Boston was commissioned by America’s most storied family to commemorate JFK after his assassination in 1963. Jackie Kennedy considered a who’s who of architects of the day (Louis Kahn and Mies van der Rohe among them) but settled on Pei. After many setbacks and changes of location, the shapely concrete block opened on the Boston waterfront 16 years later, in 1979.