2009

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I. M. Pei to receive the Royal Gold Medal for architecture

Date:

06 October 2009

Press office contact:

Beatrice Cooke
T: +44 (0)207 307 3813
E: beatrice.cooke@riba.org

I. M. Pei to receive the Royal Gold Medal for architecture

The Chinese-born American architect I. M. Pei, who is best known in Europe for his transformation of the Louvre in Paris, has been named today (Tuesday 6th October 2009) as the recipient of one of the world’s most prestigious architecture prizes, the Royal Gold Medal.

Given in recognition of a lifetime’s work, the Royal Gold Medal is approved personally by Her Majesty the Queen and is given to a person or group of people who have had a significant influence “either directly or indirectly on the advancement of architecture”.

I. M. Pei is one of the most prolific architects of all time having completed over 170 projects and more than 50 masterplans. At the age of 92, he remains actively engaged in architecture. His work easily spans the divide between commercial and cultural architecture, and he is equally respected and sought after by clients in all fields.

Ieoh Ming Pei (always known as I. M.) is a Chinese American architect, born in China in 1917. He travelled to the United States in 1935 to study architecture, and never returned to live in his home country. He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and received a Masters degree from Harvard Graduate School of Design, where he studied under Gropius and Breuer, coming under the influence of the International Style which was to inspire his work for almost 70 years. His first commission was for the noted planner-developer William Zeckendorf: the Miesian Mile High Center in Denver. He set up his own practice in 1955. His best known buildings are probably the National Center for Atmospheric Research Boulder, Colorado (1961-67), the East Wing of the National Gallery Washington DC (1968-78), the John F Kennedy Library, Boston (1965-79), the Bank of China, Hong Kong (1982-89), the Grand Louvre expansion and renovation (1983-93) and the Miho Museum in Shiga, Japan (1991-97). In recent years he has completed major museum projects in Luxembourg, China and Qatar. His only building in the UK is a private commission: a tiny pavilion in Wiltshire.

I. M. Pei has been honoured by America, France, Germany, Japan and the UK where he is an Honorary Academician of the Royal Academy of Arts (1993). He has been awarded the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Medal for Architecture (1976); the American Institute of Architects - the Gold Medal (1979); the American Academy of Arts & Letters - Gold Medal for Architecture (1979); La Grande Médaille d’Or of l’Académie d’Architecture, France (1981), the Pritzker Architecture Prize (1983); the Praemium Imperiale for lifetime achievement in architecture, Japan (1989); Officier de La Légion d’Honneur, France (1993) and the Thomas Jefferson Medal for distinguished achievement in the arts, humanities, or social sciences (2001).

Speaking from New York, I. M. Pei said of the honour,

‘It is a great honour to receive the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects. I am humbled indeed to read the names of those who have preceded me as recipients. I look forward to attending the ceremony in February, and to thanking personally RIBA President Ruth Reed and the Honours Committee, and David Adjaye, who nominated me.’

I. M. Pei was nominated for the 2010 Royal Gold Medal by David Adjaye. His citation concludes with a personal tribute: ‘When I began my studies in architecture, I. M. Pei was already a giant in the cannon of greats. His work seemed effortlessly capable of creating extraordinary clarity out of complex and conflicting demands. His is an agile ability, working with Heads of State, Kings and Queens, “hard nosed” developers and non profit institutions, in each case creating revealing, extraordinary works of precision with quality and detail.

‘I remember as a young student first visiting the Louvre in Paris and marvelling at its extraordinary ability to unify and modernize what was a much loved but disparate institution and behold its magnificent, gravity defying, glass pyramid. He became a role model for me as a young architect.’

RIBA President Ruth Reed, who chaired the Honours Committee which selects to Royal Gold medal winner said,

“Chairing the Honours Committee was my very first duty as President and it was an honour for me too. The Royal Gold Medal is a most auspicious award and we have chosen in I. M. Pei a very special winner. He is one of the greats of 20th - and 21st - century architecture; a man whose work I have always admired. A list of his influences and those he has influenced reads like a roll-call of the Modern Movement. Seldom has such a reward been so overdue or so just.”

I. M. Pei will be presented with the Royal Gold Medal on 11 February 2010 (TBC) at a ceremony at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London, when the 2010 RIBA International and Honorary Fellowships will also be presented.

The Royal Gold Medal was inaugurated by Queen Victoria in 1848 and is conferred annually by the Sovereign on ‘some distinguished architect for work or high merit, or on some distinguished person whose work has promoted either directly or indirectly the advancement of architecture.’

Previous winners have included Sir Charles Barry, Sir George Gilbert Scott, Alfred Waterhouse, Sir Edwin Lutyens, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, Charles Voysey, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Alvar Aalto, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Kenzo Tange, Ove Arup, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, Louis Kahn, James Stirling, Berthold Lubetkin, Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Oscar Niemeyer, Jean Nouvel, Rem Koolhaas, Toyo Ito and Alvaro Siza.

This year’s RIBA Honours Committee was chaired by the President of the RIBA, Ruth Reed with:

David Adjaye OBE, architect, Adjaye Associates

Edward Cullinan CBE, architect, Edward Cullinan Architects

Max Fordham, Environmental Engineer, Max Fordham Partnership

Anne Lacaton, architect, Lacaton & Vassal (Paris)

Laura Lee, Client, Maggie’s.

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Notes to editors

1. For further information or images contact Beatrice Cooke in the RIBA Press Office beatrice.cooke@inst.riba.org or 020 7307 3813.

2. The RIBA Royal Gold Medal, International and Honorary Fellows are managed by the RIBA Trust. The RIBA Trust manages the cultural assets of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), including the internationally recognised collections of the British Architectural Library. It is the UK’s national architecture centre, delivering the RIBA Awards and RIBA Stirling Prize (live on Channel 4); the Royal Gold Medal; International and Honorary Fellowships; the London Festival of Architecture; a full programme of lectures, exhibitions, tours and other events; and an education programme.

3. The full citation follows:

Royal Gold Medal 2010 I. M. Pei – official RIBA citation

I. M. Pei’s career has been an extraordinary gift to architecture. ‘To be a good architect,’ he has said, ‘There is something about pushing the limit……I would like to think I push myself to the limit.’

Ieoh Ming Pei (always known as I. M.) is a Chinese American architect, born in Canton, China in 1917. He travelled to the United States in 1935 to study architecture, and never returned to live in his home country. He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Le Corbusier and Alvar Aalto were among the visiting lecturers and professors. He later received a Masters degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where he studied under Gropius and Breuer and alongside Philip Johnson, a mature student. Here he came under the influence of the International Style which was to inspire his work for the next 70 years. One of his projects at Harvard was for a new museum in Shanghai in which he tested the boundaries of modernism and which was much praised by Gropius, although Pei himself did not care for it. He preferred his MIT thesis Propaganda Units in China, a series of pre-fabricated units of bamboo with panels painted different colours to indicate usage: dance, performance, lecture, film. Of the project Pei has said, ‘All of these projects were purely speculative. We didn’t know what to do. You dreamed. That was my dream then.’

I. M. Pei began his architectural practice in the early 1950s and has produced challenging and thoughtful architecture in every decade, which has come to be a part of the definition of its time. His first commissions were for the noted planner-developer William Zeckendorf. The Miesian Mile High Center in Denver (1952-56), a 22 storey tower, was way ahead of its time and demonstrated Pei’s mature belief that you don’t need a lot of money to do good architecture, just a lot of thought. But the developer was not merely interested in commercial architecture. With Pei as his architect he would fly from city to city persuading mayors to apply for federal funding for slum clearance and urban renewal – ‘healing the wounds of the city’ in Pei’s telling phrase. The low budgets for early radical housing and urbanism projects such as Kips Bay in New York City forced him to experiment with materials. This was architecture of the minimum. Brick was too expensive, so Pei argued for in-situ concrete – the façade was the structure. Kips Bay also gave him his first experience of masterplanning, a subject still dear to his heart. He found SOM’s original plan too complex and, with brilliant arrogance of youth, insisted on two blocks instead of their five. Kip’s Bay still stands today with Pei’s name on a plaque. It is a fine early achievement, a social project that has paid its way in the commercial world and one he is still immensely proud of.

I. M. Pei’s architecture has always asked searching questions and provided invaluable answers as to how contemporary architecture can engage the complex issues of our times. As early as 1954 he was proposing the Hyperboloid, a 1500 foot, 108 storey crown of thorns skyscraper, it tapered towards two thirds height, so that every floor plate was different, before flourishing out to its crown. The aerodynamic shape made it more resistant to nuclear blast. Underneath was a transport interchange the likes of which has never been achieved in the US. And though 70% bigger than the Empire State, it would have used the same amount of steel. This was green thinking before its time.

His first major built project in his own name was the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado (1961-67), won in competition against Alvar Aalto. Built in the foothills of the Rockies, it was influenced by a visit Pei made to the four storey buildings at Mesa Verde, built by indigenous Americans in the 13th century, which merge into their environment with their use of local material. Pei’s budget did not permit stone but he reconstituted the local rock then hammered the surface of the pinkish aggregate. Just as influential, though in an entirely negative way, was his visit to SOM’s Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs where the aluminium and glass played against the setting. Pei chose the other way; by now he was developing his own lexicon.

There followed his first museum, the Everson, in Syracuse, New York (1961-68) which is as sculptural as the pieces it contains. Here Pei was able to play with form, and the space created by form, for the first time. Everson’s success gave him the credibility to undertake what many still consider his masterpiece: the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC (1968-78). At last there would be no compromises on site, budget or time. The benefactor Paul Mellon considered it the only great work of art he ever commissioned. ‘The choice of

I. M. Pei as architect was ultimately mine and I shall always be proud that I made that choice.’ Despite the grandeur of its setting on the Mall the East Building has an intimacy that is better suited to families than the West Building or the Met in New York – ‘My children always preferred the Guggenheim’, he says. This is in part because of the response to the triangular site and the differing height restrictions and results in the three house museums, the atrium garden and the constantly shifting perspectives. But it is the introduction of daylight – the massive skylight was an overnight inspiration - which makes the building so memorable, and it was this, together with the triangular form that he took much further with his commission for the Grand Louvre in Paris (1983-93). This was his most difficult job ever, given the cultural sensitivity of the French. Here he was toying with one of France’s greatest icons, but instead of treading carefully, he waded in. He was also up against the public’s inability to understand a building until it is complete and they can inhabit it. Yet another issue was that the Louvre lacked the infrastructure a modern museum must have. So he proposed to excavate the two courtyards to provide this accommodation. When he asked President Mitterrand for permission, his response was immediate: ‘Très bien.’ That solved the technical problem but the public still needed to be enticed in. The glass pyramid was the solution. The Commission Superieure des Monuments Historiques, to whom he had to present, called it ‘a fake diamond and very cheap,’ Fortunately Pei’s French was not good enough for him to understand and he persevered and with the support of Mitterrand and the then Mayor of Paris Jacques Chirac, he won over the nation and the world.

In between came the fulfilment of the personal commission from Jackie Kennedy for her husband’s Memorial Library near Boston (1965-79). ‘The client,’ Pei says, ‘not only has to like what you have done, but also you as a person.’ It was this relationship that sustained the project through its 15 year delays, the inroads of inflation and the numerous site changes. The landfill site in Dorchester was scarcely auspicious, but the building does suitably memorialise a President who is forever young. And the use of the space frame and the glazing were again to be seen in the atrium of Raffles City, Singapore (1973-86), as well as of course in the Grand Louvre.

I. M. Pei has been honoured with the American Institute of Architects’ Gold Medal (1979); the Pritzker Architecture Prize (1983); the Praemium Imperiale for lifetime achievement in architecture, Japan (1989); he is an Officier de La Légion d’Honneur, France (1993) and an Honorary Academician of the Royal Academy of Arts, London (1993).

Pei has since worked increasingly on an international stage: particularly and at last in his homeland of China, with the vernacular-inspired Fragrant Hill Hotel in Beijing (1979-82), the Bank of China in Hong Kong (1982-89), the Bank of China Head Office in Beijing (1994-2001) and the Suzhou Museum (2000-06); each grafts new technologies on to the roots of indigenous building techniques, to create a new, distinctly modern form of Chinese architecture. There have been other important European commissions too: the Deutsches Historisches Museum Zeughaus in Berlin (1996-2003) and the Musée d’Art Moderne in Luxembourg (1995-2006), both of which brought local cultural challenges. Finally, elsewhere in Asia, there have been the Miho Museum in Shiga, Japan (1991-97) and, most recently, the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar (2000-08).

I. M. Pei was nominated for the 2010 Royal Gold Medal by architect David Adjaye who said: ‘When I began my studies in architecture, I. M. Pei was already a giant in the canon of greats. His work seemed effortlessly capable of creating extraordinary clarity out of complex and conflicting demands. His is an agile ability: working with Heads of State, Kings and Queens, with ‘hard-nosed’ developers and not-for-profit institutions. In each case creating revealing, extraordinary works of precision with quality and detail.

‘I remember as a young student first visiting the Louvre in Paris and marvelling at its extraordinary ability to unify and modernise what was a much-loved but disparate institution and behold its magnificent, gravity defying, glass pyramid. He became a role model for me as a young architect.

‘In recent years I have been able to visit his early housing and urbanism works and have been struck by his ability to create humane and high-quality architecture with minimal means, at extremely low costs - a lesson for our times.’

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