First Person Singular: I.M. Pei
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Architect I.M. Pei leads viewers through some of his more famous creations such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Miho Museum, the National Gallery of Art, and the Bank of China. He also speaks candidly about his life, his early years in China, his schooling at both Harvard and MIT, and his approach to architecture and design.
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I see Pei thru John Hancock Building in Boston. This glass skyscraper has a blade-like black strip niched along the entire height of building. Seeing it from the ground level, one cannot but be amazed at the thickness/size/amount of steel panels used to make that simple strip perceivable from afar. The glass tower contrasts strikingly to the brick context of Back Bay and the strip turns the building into a razor-like crystal. Such intensity of focus on the essence of a problem is the nature of Pei. This amazing DVD, orated by Pei himself, portrays such character.
Early in his childhood, Pei lived in Suzhou (regarded as Venice of Asia) and he was exposed to rock farm artists. Pei provides a great anecdote on the practice of these artists. He claims his base of practice follows the heritage of those rock artists. To combine the man-made and nature-made and to regard "time" element as an quintessential aspect of creative enterprise.
Pei's life in Cambridge is a testimony to the exciting encounters with modern masters at MIT and Harvard. Life in NY with Zeckendorf, Donald Trump equivalent of that era, is an experience of seeing architecture from the real estate perspective. Finally, his own practice that ignited the blast of winning major competitions. All of these stories are well orchestrated in the film.
His major projects, such as Louvre and JFK museums, have great hidden stories. Miterand's vision for Paris was only possibly perfected by Pei's talent. Jacquiline's election of Pei among heroic Mies and Kahn is a contemporary drama.
Unlike a typical boring documentary film, oftentimes a person depicting divorced from his/her works, this DVD performs as a companion to his actual buildings. The film is a verbal oration of his spatial creation. Sometimes, the camera pulsates with light and texture of space, othertimes, the camera jazzes with background music to the tonal rythym of his space.
If there is an American Dream in architecture, here is a man who achieved it. If you liked this film, I highly recommend a film on Louis Kahn, 1996(?) version.
The talented son of a well-to-do Chinese banker, Pei received the best education his family could arrange and ultimately ended up in the States studying architectural engineering because he lacked confidence in his drawing skills. "Nonsense," said his professor. "All Chinese people can draw. If you want to be an architect, then be one!"
At the time when Pei was a student, the Beaux Arts stylistic school was in vogue, but Pei's eyes were opened by the Bauhaus school of thought with its clean lines and "form follows function" philosophy; the work of Walter Gropius who taught at Harvard where Pei was a student; LeCorbusier's freedom and plasticity of form borrowing heavily from sculpture; Aalto's insistence that the design conform to the use of the building; and Marcel Breuer's fascination with sunlight and the play of light upon the planes of a building.
Thanks to his education in architectural engineering, Pei could never forget that structural elements go hand in hand with architecture, and the architect must always be aware of the forces in play upon a structure. Pei likes to push the envelope where the two disciplines intersect.
Virtually unknown until Jackie Kennedy selected him to design the Kennedy Library from the creme de la creme of the then architectural giants, Pei is responsible not only for the Kennedy Library but also for the Pyramid at the Louvre, the addition to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., his signature Bank of China Building in Hong Kong, the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Dallas Orchestra Hall, to name just a few.
Of his life partner, his wife Eileen, whom he married when she graduated from Wellesley, Pei likes to say he bounces all his ideas off her first because she is his best critic.
His personal philosophy for architecture touches on the following points: start with the complex and reduce it to its essence; like Bach, find a basic theme and repeat it many ways in that particular project; never duplicate projects because each project brings is own space, setting, use, and history; the simpler the solution, the more powerful the structure appears; persist and never sacrifice principle; make the space move as the people move easily within the space; and travel, travel, travel as you learn to "see" in a new way -- don't just settle for reading books or copying someone else's work.
If you enjoy classical music, you (like me) will immediately try to find the soundtrack to this documentary. Sadly, there is none, so I've had to collect the individual works as listed in the end credits. The music is so integral to the visual that it's easy to understand why Pei finds classical music stimulating to his creativity.
I purchased this DVD with one on Frank Geary (who brings more of the sculptural to his architectural style), and "My Architect" a thoroughly engrossing documentary about the search for I.M. Kahn's true nature and greatness as discovered bit by bit through the eyes of his illegitimate son with whom he couldn't spend nearly the amount of time he should have. The final scenes of the movie brought tears to my eyes. I highly recommend it as a riveting testimony to both the frailty and the greatness in human nature.
I highly recommend all three of these DVDs.
The quality of the interviews is good and has this personal approach. It makes the viewer feel emotionally connected to the architect. Well, his character plays a big part in that manner, actually.
If you are involved in any form of art, even if it's not architecture, you will find this production worth the money.
Most recent customer reviews
Generally more information would be better, good photography.
I had to make an additional payment of R60 to clear the parcel at the Post Office
It could have been longer with more info, however, it does give one
a good idea of the person's work.