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I. M. Pei: Life is Architecture

29 June 2024 - 30 April 2025



M+, Asia’s global museum of contemporary visual culture in the West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong, will present I. M. Pei: Life is Architecture, the first major institutional retrospective to fully appraise the work of Chinese-born American architect Ieoh Ming Pei (1917–2019), widely known as I. M. Pei, one of the most influential architects of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Generously supported by Lead Sponsor Bank of China (Hong Kong), this Special Exhibition will be held in the museum’s West Gallery and open to the public on Saturday, 29 June 2024.

Pei’s high-profile projects were realised over seven decades with an exceptionally wide geographic reach—including the National Gallery of Art East Building in Washington, D.C., the modernisation of the Grand Louvre in Paris, the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, and the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha. These landmark projects solidified his legacy and position in architectural history and popular culture. His life and work weave together a tapestry of power dynamics, geopolitical complexities, cultural traditions, and the characters of cities around the world. His transcultural vision laid a foundation for the contemporary world.

Organised with the support of the Estate of I. M. Pei and Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, which succeeded the architectural firm Pei founded, the exhibition is curated by Shirley Surya, Curator, Design and Architecture, M+, and Aric Chen, General and Artistic Director, The New Institute in Rotterdam. This retrospective features more than three hundred objects, many of them have never been exhibited. These include original drawings, architectural models, photographs, films, and other archival documentation from institutional and private holdings.

The exhibition takes a close look at Pei’s life and work through six areas of focus that not only define his unique practice, but also place his architectural projects in dialogue with social, cultural, and biographical trajectories, showing architecture and life to be inseparable. These areas are:

  • Pei’s Transcultural Foundations shows how Pei’s upbringing and architectural education formed the foundation of his ability to reconcile multiple sources of influence across cultures and between tradition and modernity.
  • Real Estate and Urban Redevelopment unveils a lesser-known phase of Pei’s career as part of real estate developer Webb & Knapp in New York City and his contributions to mixed-use planning, housing, and urban revitalisation projects in the United States in the 1960s, and subsequently beyond American borders.
  • Art and Civic Form introduces Pei’s design of museums and his frequent collaborations with artists from Henry Moore to Zao Wou-Ki, demonstrating his belief in museums as civic spaces, the importance of dialogue between art and architecture, and his deep affinity with the contemporary art of his time.   
  • Power, Politics, and Patronage reveals how Pei—with his technical mastery, ingenious problem-solving and sensitivity to client needs—became a trusted collaborator in high-profile commissions that drew both immense support and public controversy throughout his career.
  • Material and Structural Innovation illustrates Pei and his team’s consistent inventiveness in the utilisation of materials and construction methods for design innovation, especially with concrete, stone, glass, and steel.
  • Reinterpreting History as Design Strategy examines Pei’s long-standing interest in making   modern architecture relevant to different histories, traditions, and ways of life, particularly those related to his birthplace. This had largely been demonstrated by Pei’s distilling of the essence of cultural and historical archetypes that could provide formal or spatial strategies for contemporary needs.

To engage a new generation of architecture students with the work of I. M. Pei, M+ has partnered with two Master’s programmes focusing on the design of tall structures and cultural spaces at the University of Hong Kong Department of Architecture and The Chinese University of Hong Kong School of Architecture respectively. Students have contributed to creating altogether five models in their studios to represent some of Pei’s most significant built and unbuilt projects. The projects include ‘Museum of Chinese Art for Shanghai’ (1946), Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design Master’s thesis; Hyperboloid (1954–1955; unbuilt), New York; and Luce Memorial Chapel (1954–1963), Tunghai University, Taichung.

The exhibition also features newly commissioned photographs of eleven of Pei’s built projects by seven international photographers, taken during the pandemic, to reconsider the enduring influence of Pei’s work up until the present day. The photographers are South Ho (Hong Kong), Naho Kubota (New York City), Lee Kuo-Min (Taipei), Giovanna Silva (Milan), Mohamed Somji (Dubai), Tian Fangfang (Shanghai), and Tomoko Yoneda (Tokyo/London).

 To coincide with the exhibition, a new 400-page book I. M. Pei: Life is Architecture with 471 colour illustrations will be published in June 2024 by Thames & Hudson in collaboration with M+. The title presents both celebrated and lesser-known aspects of Pei’s life and career by featuring largely unpublished archival materials, newly commissioned photographs and essays, as well as personal anecdotes from scholars and those who knew and had worked with Pei.


29 June
30 April 2025
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