Honoring I. M. Pei
Architecture, just like music, is a harmony of structure and spirit with a certain reputation that doesn't seem like reputation and to find an endless variety of a simple theme, that is the endless challenge of the architect.
I. M. Pei came to the US in pursuit of that American lifestyle, the American Dream. When he was young he would go to American movies about football games and cheerleaders and stars like Ben Crosby and he came to the United States for the search of that lifestyle that he saw in those movies, a free and easy type of lifestyle while learning and growing in the process. Through it all, Pei was convinced that "all things are possible in America".
Today we honor a dreamer and a great architect, I. M. Pei and take a brief look at his vision and creative mind behind some of the most famous architecture in the world: Musée du Louvre and the Kennedy Presidential Library.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum Boston
In 1964, Jacqueline Kennedy picked young and fairly inexperienced at the time I. M. Pei among the list of very known and famous architects for the architecture build of the JFK Library to honor the life and legacy of John F. Kennedy.
One of the key elements of the building in terms of both Pei's spectacular vision and an spiritual symbol in capturing John Kennedy's character is the large glass pavilion which is a silent and empty space in the museum, as intended by design. Pei in an interview explained his vision for the pavilion and emphasized the importance of silence and emptiness in this space and Jacqueline Kennedy shared the same vision. The silence in that room allowed a sense of freedom for one to develop his or her own memory of Kennedy.
The space welcomes visitors after they've seen the exhibits and the story of the life of John Kennedy as they emerge into this empty glass pavilion. There is nothing there and that was the exact idea. As the architect explained; I did not want anything there.
".. You can't just make an indifferent space that could have been for just anyone." The architect explained in an interview about the museum and his vision for capturing Kennedy's characteristics into his design for the museum. An American flag is hung from the ceiling of the sun-filled space and that is the the perfect compliment to the otherwise completely empty room.
"Because every visitor after they've seen the exhibit can come out, they don't all have to say he was the greatest man in the world. The individual, the boy and the girl, the man and the woman can make up his or her own mind about this man. And the emptiness turned out to be the right solution."
Musée du Louvre
The Louvre Palace which goes back to as early as the 12th century was begun as housing for kings and was altered throughout the years and eventually the Louvre was transformed into a public museum. So the place was not originally meant to function as a museum; there were no bathrooms, no restaurant and no guidance which resulted in short visit per person sessions and missing out on enjoying all the beautiful and amazing collections the museum had to offer. Pei was challenged to redesign the Louvre to address modern needs of a museum and improve navigation, flow, access and overall experience with the pressure of addressing years and years of history and delivering to the sophistication and standards of the French.
Pei phased the build of the Louvre into 2 parts. It took 6 years to build the controversial pyramid of the Louvre museum, 4 of which were devoted to the architectural build while the first 2 years were spent on convincing the French that the pyramid was the right and the only solution for the redesign of this historic landmark. The pyramid proposed by Pei was the solution to a very complex problem with challenges to impact the very important part of French history, located in the most important and the center and heart of Paris. Phase 2 involved a major engineering element of the Louvre as it completed the Richelieu wing and without the wing there would not have been the Louvre that we have today.
Pei's solution was to open up the Louvre to make it as a connector of the right and the left banks rather than a barrier that interrupts direct connection by foot. The solution addressed the challenges and goals of the redesign while it also revolutionized the function and the architectural, visual and perceptual aspects of the museum and the framework of Paris even though it faced with a lot of backlash and judgement by media and the French at the time.
Clarity of orientation was an important element in Pei's solution for the Louvre and something that was desperately needed to address all these challenges and growing needs of the Louvre. The only solution was to divide the museum into 3 parts and to place the center of the Louvre, not on the sides, but in the middle of the space (the Napoleon court) to build a center gravity for the Louvre. The pyramid acts as the main entrance to the building and allows the navigation and flow to the 3 wings surrounding the center. Pyramid is an important symbol in French history and in the history of design and architecture. The transparency of the pyramid is a symbol of openness and allows a connection between the two banks and open up Louvre to highlight years and years of history.
The composition of the pyramid had to be transparent to deliver the promises of connection and openness. To accomplish that, Pei had to overcome yet another challenge of customizing the glasses to be clear rather than the thick glasses that would have a green and heavy hue. So the glasses were picked with careful consideration to keep the composition clear and transparent.
The natural lighting was yet another challenging task for the architect which led to amazing and innovative solutions for the ceiling of the museum. The goal was to direct the glass roof natural sun reflecting the walls rather than the direct light on the floors. Incorporating glazing and fixed ratings in the ceiling design minimized the direct sunlight and allowed the natural light to be angled towards the walls, reducing glare and harshness of direct light while providing plenty of natural light for the art on the walls.