One of the 20th century's most renowned contemporary architects, I.M. Pei, died on Thursday evening at his Manhattan home, as his son, Li Chung Pei, confirmed to The NY Times. He was 102 years old, and his cause of death is still unclear.
Over his lifetime, Pei developed a distinctive modernist architectural style, rooted in striking geometric shapes. The museums, pavilions, and hotels he designed are peppered around the world, from Doha, Qatar's Museum of Islamic Art to the glass pyramids towering in front of the Louvre, in Paris, France. New York City played an especially critical role in Pei's career, too, from his early days as an architect to designing commanding structures across several boroughs.
Pei, who was from China, immigrated to the United States in the 1930s and studied architecture at M.I.T. and Harvard. After he graduated from his masters' program in the late 1940s, the real estate tycoon William Zeckendorf—who offered up the land that would become the United Nations's permanent hub, and who wanted to build a "dream airport" in Midtown Manhattan—hired him to helm designing buildings for his firm, Webb & Knapp, in New York City.
During his time working with Zeckendorf, Pei garnered experience working with high-rise developments. In 1955, he established his own firm, I.M. Pei & Associates. Together he worked with Zeckendorf on the likes of the Silver Towers, near NYU (Buildings that halted the university from erecting a 38-story tower when they were designated as a landmark in 2008) and the apartment complex Kips Bay Plaza, replete with a courtyard and 1118 units.
Eventually, Pei parted ways with Zeckendorf and continued his ascent as an architect with his own firm. He went on to work on Syracuse's Everson Museum of Art and the East Building of the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C., and was selected from a crop of architects to design the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library, in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1964.
When he wasn't designing the likes of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, and Hong Kong's iconic Bank of China Tower, Pei continued dreaming up spaces in New York City, where he was based. He designed one condo, Central Park South's Centurion, as well as the ritzy Four Seasons Hotel. The hotel opened its doors in the 1990s, with the idea of nostalgic hotel stays in mind: "To this end, the guest rooms have the feel of apartments, and public areas are designed around personal service and discreet ceremony," as the late architect's firm, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, puts it. That includes the posh as hell Ty Warner Penthouse, a suite that features one bed and is available for a cool $50,000 a night.
Pei's fingerprints are still seen everywhere around the city, from cultural to residential spaces. That includes the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, a space that plays host to the likes of mega-fandom conventions including New York Comic Con. He conceptualized a "superblock" in Crown Heights with more public space in mind, as well as a transportation hub—the gorgeous Sundrome terminal at JFK—that was razed a few years back to make way for more of JetBlue's airplane parking spots and boarding gates. He also created the Guggenheim Pavilion at Mount Sinai Medical Center, a project "guided by the conviction that a good environment aids healing."
Pei retired from his firm in the 1990s to work on artchitectural projects with his sons, as Architectural Record notes.