Tributes pour in for 'godfather of modern architecture' I.M. Pei

Tributes from local architects and industry insiders poured in for the late I.M. Pei, the world-renowned China-born American architect who died on Thursday.

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 OCBC Centre in Chulia Street.

Those who have met the man said he was humble and gentle, and commanded much 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 is 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 is 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 him being a very warm and likeable person.

 
 

"He was a true modernist and his architectural expression has always been practical, simple and clean geometry. Whether it is 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.

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

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.

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."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2019, with the headline 'Tributes pour in for 'godfather of modern architecture''. Print Edition | Subscribe