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I.M. Pei Through the Years

In honor of the architect's centennial celebration, a time line exploring 100 years of the legend's life and work.


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April 26, 1917: Born in Guangzhou, China, to Tsuyee Pei and Lien Kwun. They name their son Ieoh Ming, meaning “to inscribe brightly.”

1929: Pei’s beloved mother dies of cancer, and the family moves to Shanghai.

1934: Inspired by the Bing Crosby film College Humor, Pei decides to study in the U.S. He transfers to MIT for its structural engineering program.

1942: Marries Eileen Loo, a Chinese student recently graduated from Wellesley College. The couple is together for nearly 72 years.

1944: First son T’ing Chung is born. The Peis will have three more children: son Chien Chung in 1946, son Li Chung in 1949, and daughter Liane in 1960.

1948: After graduating from Harvard’s design school, Pei is hired by real estate planner William Zeckendorf Sr. as Webb & Knapp’s architecture director.

1954: Pei becomes a naturalized citizen of the United States.

1955: Pei and some 70 designers leave Webb & Knapp to form I. M. Pei & Associates, a firm led by Pei, Henry Cobb, and Eason Leonard.

1956: Pei designs his first skyscraper, the Mile High Center, in downtown Denver.

1967: Pei designs the laboratories for the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, inspired by nearby Indian pueblos.

1976: Boston’s John Hancock Tower suffers technical problems when many of the facade’s glass plates fall out. Pei’s reputation suffers.

1978: Gains national attention with the trapezoid- shaped East Building of the National Gallery in D.C.

1979: The JFK presidential library opens in Boston. Jackie Kennedy chose Pei to design it; he calls it his “most important commission.”

1983: Wins the Pritzker prize. Uses the $100,000 award to establish a U.S. scholarship for Chinese design students.

1986: Becomes one of 12 naturalized American citizens to receive the Medal of Liberty from President Ronald Reagan.

1989: Work finishes on Pei’s most famous and controversial design, the bold pyramid at the entrance of the Louvre in Paris.

1995: The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame opens in Cleveland. Pei’s design is energetic and youthful.

2008: Designs the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar, which distills centuries of Islamic design into a single building.

2010: Pei is awarded Britain’s Royal Gold Medal for architecture by Queen Elizabeth II.


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