Photo by Scott Basile
I.M. Pei designed the Everson Museum of Art to be a grand sculptural object sitting in a plaza, surrounded by the forms of the modern city. He rejected the traditional notion that a museum needed to be a monumental container for art and decided it ought to be a sculptural work of art itself. This allowed him to design a building that could be experienced as sculpture.We experience sculpture in three dimensions by moving around it. Sculpture is meant to be seen from multiple viewpoints over a period of time. I.M. Pei wants us to see his building from multiple viewpoints, to move around it, and to discover its forms and spaces. He wants us to discover how to enter the building and be delighted by the spaces we find.
This building breaks with tradition. It does not readily tell us how to use it, how to enter it or what to expect. This building does, in a very different way, tell us that it is about art. It tells us we should look at buildings and art from a different perspective. It asks us to explore and question what we think art, or sculpture, or spaces, or buildings should be. It rewards us with engaging art, exciting spaces and a building that is dynamic, sculptural and beautifully crafted. What begins as a search for the front door becomes a journey to experience art and architecture from a new point of view.
I. M. Pei
1917 — 2019
RIBA Gold Medal winner.
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I. M. Pei began studying architecture in the United States in 1935 and eventually earned his B.A. from MIT and his M.A. from Harvard. After starting his own architectural firm in 1955, Pei went on to design such well-known structures as the Kennedy library, a wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the glass pyramid at the Louvre, the Museum of Islamic Art and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Pei left his mark with innovative structures around the world — elegant geometries of stone, concrete, glass and steel that earned him countless architecture honors throughout his long and storied career. The new building of the Everson Museum of Art was designed by him, and is regarded as a work of art in its own right.
An aerial view of the construction of the Everson Museum of March 6, 1967.
For more than 60 years, Pei was one of the world’s most sought-after architects and has handled a wide range of commercial, government and cultural projects. In the early decades of the 21st century, his firm turned much of its energies to projects abroad, marrying Pei’s stark geometry with regional architectural traditions. One such building is the Museum of Islamic Art, which opened in 2009, an ethereal mix of sharp cubes punctuated by traditional Islamic arches.
Pei died on May 16, 2019, at 102 years old.