'Godfather of modern architecture': Tributes to I.M. Pei pour in from Singapore architects

In Singapore, the late I.M. Pei designed Raffles City, The Gateway in Beach Road and the OCBC Centre in Chulia Street.
In Singapore, the late I.M. Pei designed Raffles City, The Gateway in Beach Road and the OCBC Centre in Chulia Street.PHOTO: NYTIMES

SINGAPORE - Tributes from local architects and industry insiders have poured in for the late I.M. Pei, the world-renowned Chinese-born American architect who died on Thursday (May 16). He was 102.

Mr Pei, whose high-profile projects include the glass pyramid that serves as an entry for the Louvre in Paris, was hailed by many as one of the most prolific architects of the 20th century.

In Singapore, he designed Raffles City, The Gateway in Beach Road and the OCBC Centre in Chulia Street.

Those who have met the man said he was humble and gentle, and commanded respect from people who worked with and for him.

Mr Michael Ngu, chief executive of local architectural firm architects61, said he was "honoured" and "blessed" to have worked in Mr Pei's New York office in Madison Avenue in the 1980s.

He considers Mr Pei his mentor and the "godfather of modern architecture".

"An element that's almost always consistent in his architecture is a light-filled atrium space to be loved by its occupants. As a focal point both physically and visually, it's the very essence of Pei's idea of architectural celebration."

"He was also meticulous about how to put a building together as he believed architecture must stand the test of time."


"The Gateway is a good example, after nearly four decades, the building still feels fresh. That is the magic of I.M. Pei," he said.

Ms Charu Kokate, principal at Safdie Architects, met him at the Edward MacDowell Medal ceremony in 1998 where Mr Pei was the first architect to receive the medal for outstanding contributions to the arts.

Then a fresh graduate, she recalled Mr Pei being a very warm and likeable person.

"He's a true modernist and his architectural expression has always been practical, simple and clean geometry. Whether it's the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong or the Louvre in Paris, his landmark buildings are inspiring examples for architects around the world," she said.

The Gateway, located in Beach Road, is most recognised for its crystalline pair of twin towers, which when seen from a certain angle, seems to create a two-dimensional optical illusion. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY

Mr Pei was known to be sensitive in the way he designs his building, ensuring that it fulfils the needs of its users while melding well with its surroundings.

Professor Lam Khee Poh, dean of the National University of Singapore's School of Design and Environment, said: "He integrated urban planning, design and architecture in all his works from the beginning.

"He was concerned with what we call human-centred design and understanding the real needs of occupants of the urban environment he was designing for."

Local architecture photographer Darren Soh, who has photographed Mr Pei's creations in Singapore on multiple occasions, said his designs have stood the test of time.

"The Gateway almost looks two-dimensional when you photograph it. But if you walk around the two towers, you get totally different views."

"It's an amazing project that really looks like a gateway into the city," he said.