Picks and Pans Review: I.m. Pei
When architect I.M. Pei unveiled plans for the John Hancock Building in Boston in 1967, the sheer brazenness of its seamless glass facade shocked the city's inhabitants. When he proposed renovating the centuries-old Louvre with a glass pyramid as the entrance in 1984, Parisians vilified him. When he finalized plans a year later for a prism-shaped skyscraper in Hong Kong, local financiers shied away. Yet through all the controversy Pei persevered, and today those buildings are modern landmarks.
The secret to Pei's success, which is revealed in Cannell's fascinating authorized biography, lies in the architect's ability to be both an artist and a businessman—a skill he learned growing up in Shanghai in the 1920s. Educated at Harvard and exiled from home by the Communist revolution, Pei found his niche in America. There he was guided by his belief that architecture could be monumental without being impersonal. Pei landed a succession of prestigious jobs, beginning, in 1964, with the starkly imposing Kennedy Library in Boston.
Cannell has assembled a valuable primer to Pei's work. His portrait is largely complimentary, lightly touching upon Pei's autocratic demeanor and his work to improve U.S. relations with China. Pei comes across as an uncompromising perfectionist, a genius at making dramatic statements—most recently at the multi-tiered Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland—that go beyond contemporary trends or easy solutions." (Crown, $35)