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IM Pei: Famous Works and Philosophies

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IM Pei is known for his distinctive and bold ideologies. With several controversial designs and a Pritzker prize, he is a revolutionary in the field.

IM pei, his philosophies, and his projects

Pei designed a variety of buildings ranging from museums, residences, and offices, with notable mentions being the JFK International Airport, the Rock and Roll Museum and the Bank of China building in Hong Kong.

IM Pei’s Philosophy

1) Form Follows Intention

While we may all be aware of the idea ‘Form Follows Function’ as architecture students, Pei went one step further with his idea, to conceive ‘Form Follows Intention’. In all his designs, he used functional symbols, that while being a part of the structure, are also the elements that tie with the design with its inspiration. 

Such elements can be clearly seen in the Rock and Roll Museum. The part of the museum that rests above ground is designed to symbolize a record player.

  • Functionally, the building serves as a museum, and its form denotes the it's musical connections.
  • It symbolizes the idea that the musicians are very much alive in the museum space and their presence is felt through their music.
Part of the Rock and Roll museum resting above ground or floating
The Rock and Roll Museum by IM Pei

2) Bridge Between the Old and New

IM Pei was completely against the contest which prevailed between two types of approaches during his time as a designer- past versus present. Through his designs, he was determined to become the bridge between the two instead and also encouraged other architects to do so too. This ideology is implemented in all his buildings, which is what makes them stand the test of time.

The Bank of China tower in Hong Kong is a building with a modern facade and a traditional interior.

  • Inspired by bamboo leaves, the skyscraper is constructed with aluminum and glass.
  • The interior follows Feng Shui, a traditional Chinese practice, to plan the layout.
The design of the Bank of China Tower, Hongkong, by IM Pei inspired by bamboo leaves and constucted with aluminum and glass
Bank of China Tower, Hongkong, by IM Pei

Design Process 

A look into Pei’s design process shows the skillful incorporation of his ideologies into practice. The East Building of the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. is a center for research and exhibitions of historical art.


  • Irregular, trapezoidal site
  • Harmonize with the West Building with a classic style 
  • Have a matching monumental scale as that of the Capitol Mall


  • Concept
  • The site was divided into triangles to tackle the irregularity
  • The profile of the East building was sketched, in proportion to that of the West.
Design sketches of National Gallery of Art by IM Pei
Initial Ideation Sketches for the National Gallery of Art by IM Pei
  • Exploration
    • Pei’s team studied the surrounding buildings and the relationship of the East Building to the larger context. Alternate plans to occupy the entire site were also explored
  • Studies and Final Form
    • The team studied various facade designs and lighting options
    • The quick scribbles were the way Pei communicated, eliminating ideas in his head.
Massing and Planning for the National Gallery of Art by IM Pei
Massing and Planning for the National Gallery of Art by IM Pei
  • The final form had two separate spaces respectively for the public and research.
  • A scale model was made to understand all the aspects of the building.
Models for the National Gallery of Art by IM Pei
Models for the National Gallery of Art by IM Pei

Style and Buildings

Pei's buildings can easily be identified through the use of geometric shapes and of course, pyramids. The clean edges and polygons are in fact, key characteristics of his designs. Pei is skillful in the implementation of his strict ideologies and each of his designs is a clear example of this and speaks of his style loudly.

Some of his famous and controversial buildings are:

1. Louvre Museum, Paris

  • The glass pyramid in the Louvre Museum Complex serves as the entryway and houses rare paintings. 
  • The use of glass and steel faced opposition as people thought it might clash with the traditional backdrop of Paris. 
  • However, now the pyramid is now an icon of Paris, and as expected, has stood against time.
  • The pyramidal structure, inspired by the Great Pyramid of Giza, symbolizes the treasured paintings that it holds, similar to the Egyptian pyramids.
Elevation view of The Louvre Museum, Paris by IM Pei
The Louvre Museum, Paris

2. Suzhou Museum

The Suzhou Museum is a classic example of bridging the old and new. The museum houses ancient Chinese art, paintings, and handicrafts.

  • With the influences of Taoism and China’s past, this modern building has unadorned walls and a functional form.
  • While many believed it was not the right approach for the brief, IM Pei was determined to prove that the past and present can be tied together harmoniously and he has done so exceptionally in the design of the Suzhou Museum.
Exterior View of Suzhou Museum, China by IM Pei
Suzhou Museum, China

After the Egyptians, there was only one person who made a name and legacy for designing buildings with pyramids. Pei’s life and career display what can be achieved when our ideals and thinking are as strong as our will to persevere through obstacles. His work alone is an example of how modern designs can make lasting impressions.

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2 comments on “IM Pei: Famous Works and Philosophies”

  1. Excellent article. Thank you for providing this information in a variety of formats. We’ve learned a great deal. Continue to post.As a parent of a Junior in High School, we are talking A LOT about college. Reading your article made me realize we need to talk more balanced about the experience. Thank you for opening up and being real.Its refreshing and reminds me to do the sameAppreciating your posts and the books you share! Here are a couple more that might fit your goals and interests…A WARM WINTER TAIL and A COOL SUMMER TAIL (a lyrical, fun look at animal adaptation to cold and heat with learning activities in the backmatter, published by Arbordale, written by me and illustrated by Christina Wald) and STRETCH TO THE SUN: FROM A TINY SPROUT TO THE TALLEST TREE ON EARTH (a “tree-ography” about the coast redwood ecosystem, and how we almost lost the tallest living tree within, published by Charlesbridge, written by me, and illustrated by Susan Swan.A big thanks from a 40-something dad in New Jersey, who now needs to ride a foamy Hypto-Krypto to fool himself into thinking there’s still average-at-best ability in his body wrapped in a 5-mil much of the year when paddling out before sunrise to get a break from reality whenever possible to Chas Smith. Dirk is the Mitt Romney of surfing – if we even choose to consider this Silver Spoons 2018 fraud who’d be better off buying out Brooks Brothers and Vineyard Vines, has a place in the actual surf culture in America… Your response to his pathetic speech speaks to the people. You are the surf culture underbelly populist for the people. Thank-you again Chas. Thank-you again David.

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