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France remembers Louvre architect I.M. Pei

The Louvre museum in Paris is paying tribute to the architect of its giant glass pyramid, Ieoh Ming (I.M.) Pei, who has died aged 102.

The Louvre's employees will gather on Friday afternoon under the pyramid to commemorate Mr Ieoh.

In a statement, the museum said Mr Ieoh followed in the footsteps of acclaimed architects who have shaped the palace since the 12th century, "leaving an indelible mark on the museum with his work that boldly took the Louvre into the modern era."

The museum posted archive pictures of Mr Ieoh on Twitter, including one with a caption that read: "For 30 years your entrance to the Louvre has evolved into an icon as famous as the Mona Lisa."

30 ans que vous insufflez au Louvre audace et modernité.
Merci Monsieur Pei.
For 30 years you have infused the Louvre with audacity and modernity.
Thank you Mr. Pei. pic.twitter.com/iHsBPyT1af

— Musée du Louvre (@MuseeLouvre) May 17, 2019

Appointed the chief architect of the new Grand Louvre project in 1983, Mr Ieoh designed an underground central reception area in the shape of a pyramid.

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"His creations, which have become the Louvre's heart and lungs, have been instrumental in making this the world's leading museum," the statement said.

"I. M. Pei was a diligent, dependable architect and a true master of his craft," the museum said, adding, "his infectious smile will remain cherished in our memories."

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The Louvre Museum with its glass Pyramid entrance designed by I.M. Pei in Paris, France
Image: The Louvre Museum with its glass Pyramid entrance designed by I.M. Pei in Paris, France

Since its inauguration in 1989, the 22m (71f) faceted glass pyramid became one of the main landmarks in the French capital, but not without controversy.

Mr Ieoh's design was not accepted initially.

Then French president Francois Mitterrand, who personally selected Mr Ieoh for the project, endured a barrage of criticism when he unveiled the plan in 1984.

Many French vehemently opposed such a change to the symbol of their culture, once a medieval fortress and then a national palace.

Some resented that Mr Ieoh, a foreigner, was in charge.

But Mitterrand and his supporters prevailed and the pyramid was finished in 1989.

Mr Ieoh's architectural legacy stretches from west to east, from the Louvre museum to his native China, where he helped fuse tradition and modernity as the country opened up after the Cultural Revolution.

Some sad news: I’ve just learned that I.M. Pei died last night, at 102. The end of an architectural era, truly. A sad moment, but a career—and a life—worthy of celebration.

— Paul Goldberger (@paulgoldberger) May 16, 2019

He added elegance to landscapes worldwide with powerful geometric shapes and grand spaces.

Mr Ieoh, who as a schoolboy in Shanghai was inspired by its building boom in the 1930s, studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University in the United States.

He advanced from his early work of designing office buildings, low-income housing and mixed-used complexes to a worldwide collection of museums, municipal buildings and hotels.

I.M. Pei designed Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar
Image: I.M. Pei designed Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar

His big break was in 1964, when he was chosen over many prestigious architects, such as Louis Kahn and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, to design the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library in Boston.

At the time, Jacqueline Kennedy said all the candidates were excellent, "But Pei! He loves things to be beautiful."

The two became friends.

His works in Asia include the Fragrant Hill, or "Xiangshan" in Chinese, a museum in the southeastern Chinese city of Suzhou and the striking steel and glass Bank of China skyscraper in Hong Kong.

Bank of China tower designed by I.M. Pei (L)
Image: Bank of China tower designed by I.M. Pei (L)

A slight, unpretentious man, Mr Ieoh developed a reputation as a skilled diplomat, persuading clients to spend the money for his grand-scale projects and working with a cast of engineers and developers.

He was born on 26 April, 1917, in Canton, China, the city now called Guangzhou.

He went to the United States in 1935 with plans to study architecture, then return to practice in China.

However, World War II and the revolution in China prevented him from going back.

Mr Ieoh established his own architectural firm in 1955, a year after he became a U.S. citizen. He remained based in New York City.

Suzhou Museum, designed by I.M. Pei in Suzhou, in China's eastern Jiangsu province
Image: Suzhou Museum, designed by I.M. Pei in Suzhou, in China's eastern Jiangsu province

Mr Ieoh officially retired in 1990, but continued to work on projects.

He won prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1983. Mr Ieoh was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992.

Mr Ieoh's wife, Eileen, whom he married in 1942, died in 2014. He is survived by his three children.

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