He designed the glass pyramid at the entrance to the Louvre in Paris, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, and the Bank of China tower in Hong Kong. They're all iconic buildings, but there isn't any one achievement that made I.M. Pei one of the world's most renowned architects. His legacy is broader, said Robert A.M. Stern, former dean of architecture at Yale. "It's not a single building," Stern said. "It's his work over a generation of time and his logical and relentless pursuit of the highest degree of excellence." Pei died overnight at 102, his son said Thursday, the New York Times reports. Pei has been credited with saving modernist architecture, which was thought of as cold and uninviting, with open, welcoming public spaces, per the Washington Post. His museums, for example, were bright, rather than a series of small, dark rooms.
Pei, who was born in China, earned degrees from MIT and Harvard before designing low-income housing for a developer in New York. His big break was winning a competition to design the Kennedy library in Boston; he defeated such stars as Philip Johnson and Louis Kahn. It didn't hurt that he charmed Jacqueline Kennedy. "He performs incredible political footwork that none of the rest of us have any idea about," Johnson said. Pei's original design for the library included a glass pyramid that reappeared later at the Louvre, per the Post. He was prolific, designing buildings all over the world. "You cannot talk about architecture in the last 60 years without talking seriously about I.M. Pei," Stern said. And he didn't just work in world capitals. Part of his achievement, per the Architect's Newspaper, was bringing groundbreaking modern architecture to smaller places such as Ithaca and Syracuse, New York. Pei and his wife, Eileen Loo, had four children and were married for 72 years. She died in 2014. (The Louvre tweaked the entrance design to accommodate more visitors.)