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Keep Hope Alive: I.M. Pei

It’s no secret that immigrants have always been met with discrimination in the U.S. But with our government passing policies and taking actions reminiscent of the Gestapos, we think that now, more than ever, it’s important to look at how immigrants have constantly made a positive impact and shaped our country. There are more U.S. immigrants responsible for keeping hope alive than we have room for in this article, and we will be forever grateful for the impact they’ve had on our society.

We do not intend any emphasis on the importance of this person’s actions over anyone else, but we do believe that their story is particularly pertinent as their physically enduring work is a constant reminder of how they embody the American ideologies of independence, daring, and determination. Without further ado, we’d like to turn our attention to Ieoh Ming Pei.

I.M. Pei was born on April 25, 1917 in Guangzhou, China. His early childhood was spent primarily with his mother who encouraged his artistic sensibilities. When Pei was 10 years old, his family moved to Shanghai after his father was offered a promotion to work in the city. There, I.M. Pei was exposed to the architectural designs found in the plethora of Shanghai’s fixtures. Some of his most significant inspirations were found in Suzhou as well, where he would wander the Shizilin Garden while visiting family.

Not long after their move, Pei’s mother was diagnosed with cancer and, after a prolonged battle with the disease, she passed shortly after young Ieoh’s 13th birthday. Following his mother’s passing, Pei lived with extended family as his father became increasingly estranged. Five years later, Pei set his sights on attending college in the United States.

At the age of 18, I. M. Pei made a solo voyage to the Western coast of the United States. From there he continued traveling to Pennsylvania where he attended their state university. After a brief experience in Penn State’s architecture program, Pei became disheartened by the rigidity of the professors and the proficiency of his fellow students in such a setting. The most major point of divisiveness came from Pei’s passion for modernist techniques and the school’s focus on the Beaux-Arts style of design, based on ancient Roman and Greek foundations.

Not to be defeated, Pei turned his attention to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There he attempted to join the engineering program, but his natural talent for architectural design was soon acknowledged by his professors who convinced him to continue down his original path. Pei received his bachelor’s degree in architecture from M.I.T. in 1940 and launched the beginning of an incredible career soon after.

Pei’s influential work spans a lifetime starting with his admittance into the Graduate School for Design at Harvard. There, I. M. Pei found comrades in his resistance to the Beaux-Arts style of design in practitioners of the Bauhaus movement, a European school of design rooted in modern sensibilities.

Partway through the pursuit for his master’s degree, Pei left to answer the call made by the National Defense Research Committee during World War II. After the war’s conclusion Pei finished his degree and was quickly recruited by the design firm Webb and Knapp in 1948.

From this point Pei was able to truly flex his architectural muscles. He started by designing unique apartments and office buildings. Then he was commissioned to work on L’ Enfant Plaza. In 1955, Pei established his independent firm I.M. Pei and associates and oversaw myriad projects for 5 years. Then, in 1961, Pei designed the Mesa Laboratory for the National Center for Atmospheric research.

The project proved to be an avenue for Pei to depart from his grounding in the Bauhaus style and divine his unique personal methods. His daring creation garnered new interest, including from Jacqueline Kennedy who commissioned him to design the Kennedy Memorial Library in Washington D.C.

I.M. Pei became a rolling dynamo of architectural creativity and execution. He drafted designs for dozens of famous constructs. Some of his most prominent being:

the City Hall of Dallas, Texas,

the Hancock Tower in Boston, Massachusetts,

and the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, New York.

Of course, Pei’s most notable work was the glass pyramid at the Louvre in Paris, France. A work of refined ambition that was yet unseen in history.

The list of I. M. Pei’s accomplishments far exceeds the limitations of this article, but it is glaringly obvious that his contributions to our society, and to the world, have left a lasting and tangible mark. Hopefully, with such examples of excellence as these, more will come to understand the importance of inclusivity and embrace the unique opportunities we as a culture, and nation, gain from immigration. Should that inarguably positive change come about, we will owe an even greater debt of gratitude to people such as Ieoh Ming Pei for keeping hope alive.

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