Oct 23 2009

encounters with i. m. pei

Update: A belated congratulations to I. M. Pei for winning the 2010 Royal Gold Medal in Architecture. I recently discovered this by looking at my blog logs that showed that Pei’s name was one of the most searched and I found the announcement of the award while searching for the cause.

In my recent Washington D. C. post (4/16/09) I mentioned that I was fortunate enough to meet and make some portraits of I. M. Pei and his sons C. C. and Sandy. The location was the Pei Partnership office in Manhattan which was then a more modest operation than he had in his Pei, Cobb & Freed past. There was no grand architectural space that served a a showroom for the firm, but in the entrance was this reception area that I decided was the most representative of his building spaces.

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Portrait of I.M. Pei in his Manhattan office

He seemed to come into the office about once a week to review and oversee the next steps of their current projects. The purpose of my portrait was to help raise money to build the UCLA hospital that the Partnership designed, but the active project was a Bank of China headquarters in Bejing.

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I. M. Pei's glasses on a set of plans

I want to do a portrait of I. M. Pei’s glasses as well, but I had to wait because he needed them while he worked. So I was able to sit-in as team reviewed the details of the bank’s plans. Pei was very attuned to the details of how big the trees would grow at maturity, the type of stone that would be used, and great attention was given to the shape of the object that would grace the spire on the front of the building. There was first was talk about balls, but Pei thought a bit and decided on rings – because “rings are very Buddhist.”

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Tourist in front of the Louvre Pyramid

Years after my portrait session I had the opportunity to visit Paris and the  view his design of the Louvre entrance with the famed pyramid. All my grand plans to show the pyramid glowing at night, floating in pools of water were quickly extinguished after seeing the pools drained for maintenance and learning that the night-time lighting doesn’t happen in the summer.

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Couple kissing on the spiral stairway inside the Louvre Pyramid

So I concentrated on using the pyramid in the background and showing it from the inside and included the prismatic effect on the biggest secret revealed in the “Da Vinci Code“.

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Inverted pyramid that plays a role in the Da Vinci Code

Back in the US in Spring of 2009 I finally paid my first visit to the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. This study in triangles was granted Architecture Week’s 25-Year Award. It was described at its opening in 1978 by Washington Post architecture critic Wolf Von Eckardt as “an architectonic symphony of light and marble, color and glass, painting and sculpture.”

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The lobby of the National Gallery of Art

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

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