Campus creator: I.M. Pei’s lasting legacy in higher education

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Luce Memorial Chapel, Tunghai University, one of IM Pei's designs.

By U2B Staff 

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One of the most celebrated architects of the last century, I.M. Pei, the man behind the Louvre’s famous pyramid, died last week in his Manhattan home at age 102.

The Chinese immigrant was widely praised for his high-profile designs – from his commercial skyscrapers to his art museums – that represented a careful balance of the cutting edge and the conservative.

Best known for his design of the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the glass pyramid at the entrance to the Louvre in Paris, Pei was one of the few architects who was equally attractive to real estate developers, corporate bosses and art museum boards.

While they may not get quite the same level of attention, a lot of Pei’s designs were carried out for universities, in some cases, taking on the design of whole campuses. While his work was predominantly in the United States, a country he chose to make home due to his love of American culture, he also did striking university buildings a little closer to his native China.

To remember the genius of I.M. Pei, we take a look at some of his most striking work in higher education.

Johnson Museum, Cornell University

The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University.

The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art – Known as the Johnson Museum – is located on the northwest corner of the Arts Quad on the main campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

Constructed in 1973, the striking building is known for its distinctive concrete facade. It can be characterised by its fifth floor, which cantilevers over the open aired sculpture garden. The massive concrete structure is broken up long horizontal bands of windows that run along the upper floors, providing a bright and airy exhibition space for the artwork.

The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art in winter.

Located atop a 1,000-foot slope, the building offers a panoramic view of Cayuga Lake from its north and west sides.

The building was awarded the American Institute of Architects Honor Award in 1975.

Luce Memorial Chapel, Tunghai University

Luce Memorial Chapel, Tunghai University

Pei’s beautifully striking Christian chapel on the campus of Tunghai University is a little closer to home, being in Taiwan. It was not the only thing he did at Tunghai, however, also being responsible for the master plan and the early development of the campus.

Originally planned in 1954, the project was put on hold and only completed in November 1963.

The church itself is a tent-like structure, with four warped leaves rising to almost 20-metres in height, establishing itself as a central landmark on campus.

The yellow, glazed, diamond-shaped tiles on the exterior of the Luce Memorial Chapel, Tunghai University.

The chapel’s planes are made of lattice beams that gradually widen as they descend. The exterior of the Chapel is covered with yellow, glazed, diamond-shaped tiles echoing the diamond-shaped beams on the building’s interior.

According to ArchDaily, the Chapel’s elaborate reinforced concrete formwork was created by local craftsmen.

Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University Bloomington

Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University Bloomington

Established in 1941, it wasn’t until 1973 that Indiana University Museum of Art decided it needed a single building dedicated to housing their growing collection.

Then-Museum Director, Thomas T. Solley, contracted Pei, whose groundbreaking design was completed in 1982, giving the university not just a great museum, but also a major example of modern architecture that is itself a work of art.

“I.M. Pei was one of the greatest and most accomplished architects of the 20th century,” Indiana University’s current President Michael A. McRobbie said in a statement following Pei’s death.

“His design for our treasured Eskenazi Museum of Art remains truly visionary and extraordinary, and it has contributed mightily to the museum’s reputation as one of the premier art museums in the world.

“The exquisite building has been a source of beauty and inspiration to countless Indiana University students, faculty, staff and members of the community who are drawn to its angular austerity, open spaces, windows and glass-ceiling atrium. We are truly honoured to be home to one of his architectural masterpieces.”

Bossone Research Enterprise Center, Drexel University

Bossone Research Enterprise Center, Drexel University

The School of Engineering at Drexel University provides a cutting-edge design and a fitting home for the technical research and engineering activity that takes place within this relatively new hub.

Finished in 2003, the project entailed the renovation of 72,000 sq feet of an existing seven-story cast-in-place concrete structure and an addition of 80,000 sq feet of seven-story steel frame construction to house the laboratory, research and teaching facilities along with a new auditorium.

Bossone Research Enterprise Center, Drexel University

According to Harman Group, the building features a 70-foot-tall open atrium designed with a custom designed and built tubular steel space frame system supporting the glass façade.