Veteran architect who built the Louvre, Raffles City and the OCBC Centre passes away

I. M. Pei's most famous international projects include the John F. Kennedy Library in Massachusetts, the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, the glass-and-steel Louvre pyramid for the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the City Hall of Dallas, Texas, the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, and the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington

Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images/AFP

102-year-old veteran architect Ieoh Ming Pei – better known as I. M. Pei – who built iconic buildings like the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, France, passed away last Thursday (16 May) in New York.

Born in China in 1917, Mr Pei rose to become a prominent architect in the United States of America and made a name for himself through his iconic buildings around the world.

His most famous international projects include the John F. Kennedy Library in Massachusetts, the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, the glass-and-steel Louvre pyramid for the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the City Hall of Dallas, Texas, the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, and the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Mr Pei’s work is also present in Singapore. The three buildings he has designed have become national landmarks in the country:

The 52-storey OCBC Centre in Chulia Street was borne out of Mr Pei’s task to design a building of the future in downtown, Singapore. The construction of the skyscraper took two years and it was completed on 26 November 1976.

Besides becoming Southeast Asia’s tallest building at the time it was completed, the OCBC Centre also featured Singapore’s fastest elevators at the time, with lifts that could travel at 366m per minute. Today, the OCBC Centre building is Singapore’s 31st tallest building.

Mr Pei is also the architect behind the massive Raffles City complex that was built in the 1980’s. The ambitious project took a whopping 17 years to plan and construct.

Occupying an entire city block bounded by Stamford Road, Beach Road, Bras Basah Road and North Bridge Road, the Raffles City complex project included designing and building the Raffles City Shopping Centre, the Raffles City Convention Centre, the 42-storey Raffles City Office Tower, 28-storey twin towers, and a 73-storey tower that became the tallest hotel in the world at the time.

One of Mr Pei’s earliest works in Singapore, the Raffles City complex – which was built on the former site of Singapore’s first school, the Raffles Institution, and located beside the historic Raffles Hotel – proved to be a modernist contrast to the Victorian style and classical architecture that characterised architecture in the district, with its aluminium-finish and simple geometric designs.

The Gateway, located in Beach Road, is another creation by Mr Pei. The 37-storey building features a pair of crystalline twin towers which give a two dimensional optical illusion, when seen from a particular angle.

Sitting on the outskirts of the Central Business District, the Gateway has a trapezoidal shape – similar to the form Mr Pei used for his critically acclaimed National Gallery of Art East Building in Washington. The National Library Board has described the architecture of The Gateway as “world class”.

Mr Pei won a plethora of prizes and awards in the field of architecture, including the AIA Gold Medal in 1979, the first Praemium Imperiale for Architecture in 1989, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in 2003.

In 1983, he won the international Pritzker Architecture Prize, which is sometimes referred to as the Nobel Prize of architecture. He used the S$100,000 award to initiate a programme for aspiring architects from China to study in the US.

Although Mr Pei retired from full-time practice in 1990, he continued working as an architectural consultant primarily from his sons’ architectural firm Pei Partnership Architects.

Mr Pei, who became a naturalised US citizen in 1955, was married to Eileen Loo from 1942 until her death in 2014. He is survived by three sons and a daughter. -/TISG