IM Pei, one of the world’s revered architects who revived the Louvre, has died at 102

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Mr Pei revived the Louvre museum in Paris with a giant glass pyramid in 1989.

IM Pei, the versatile, globe-trotting architect who revived the Louvre with a giant glass pyramid and captured the spirit of rebellion at the multi-shaped Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, has died at age 102.

Key points:

  • Mr Pei was a Chinese immigrant who moved to the US in 1935
  • He has won numerous medals and awards for his architecture work
  • Some of his designs, such as the glass pyramid at the Louvre, were met with controversy

Mr Pei’s death was confirmed by Marc Diamond, a spokesman for the architect’s New York firm, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.

One of Mr Pei’s sons, Li Chung Pei, told The New York Times his father had died overnight.

Mr Pei’s works ranged from the trapezoidal addition to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, to the chiselled towers of the National Centre of Atmospheric Research that blend in with the reddish mountains in Boulder, Colorado.

His buildings added elegance to landscapes worldwide with their powerful geometric shapes and grand spaces.

Among them are the striking steel and glass Bank of China skyscraper in Hong Kong and the Fragrant Hill Hotel near Beijing.

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Decades of work

Mr Pei officially retired in 1990 but continued to work on projects.

His work spanned decades, starting in the late 1940s and continuing through the new millennium.

The geometric glass and steel The Bank of China skyscraper in Hong Kong.

Two of his last major projects, the Museum of Islamic Art, located on an artificial island just off the waterfront in Doha, Qatar, and the Macau Science Centre, in China, opened in 2008 and 2009.

Mr Pei painstakingly researched each project, studying its use and relating it to the environment. But he was also interested in architecture as art and the effect he could create.

“At one level my goal is simply to give people pleasure in being in a space and walking around it,” he said.

“But I also think architecture can reach a level where it influences people to want to do something more with their lives. That is the challenge that I find most interesting.”

Controversy surrounding Mr Pei’s work

The exterior of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, designed by architect I.M. Pei. Pei

Some of Mr Pei’s designs were met with much controversy, such as the 22-metre faceted glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre museum in Paris.

French President Francois Mitterrand, who personally selected Pei to oversee the decaying, overcrowded museum’s renovation, endured a barrage of criticism when he unveiled the plan in 1984.

Many of the French vehemently opposed such a change to the symbol of their culture, once a medieval fortress and then a national palace.

Some resented that Pei, a foreigner, was in charge, but Mitterrand and his supporters prevailed and the pyramid was finished in 1989.

It serves as the Louvre’s entrance, and a staircase leads visitors down to a vast, light-drenched lobby featuring ticket windows, shops, restaurants, an auditorium and escalators to other parts of the vast museum.

“All through the centuries, the Louvre has undergone violent change,” Mr Pei said.

“The time had to be right. I was confident because this was the right time.”

China’s industrial revolution halted plans to return

The entrance of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, designed by architect I.M. Pei, in Boston

Mr Pei travelled to the United States in 1935 with plans to study architecture, then return to practice in China, but World War II and the revolution in China prevented him from returning.

He was inspired by the Shanghai building boom in the 1930s while he was a schoolboy, before he moved to the United States and studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.

His big break was in 1964, when he was chosen over many prestigious architects, such as Louis Kahn and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, to design the John F Kennedy Memorial Library in Boston.

Mr Pei’s wife, Eileen, who he married in 1942, died in 2014. A son, T’ing Chung, died in 2003.

He is survived by sons Chien Chung Pei and Li Chung Pei, and daughter, Liane.