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I.M. PEI by Michael T. Cannell


Mandarin of Modernism

by Michael T. Cannell

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-517-79972-3
Publisher: Crown

 The lineaments of I.M. Pei's career emerge clearly in this skillfully composed biography, although the celebrated architect's private personality remains veiled. The East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; Boston's John Hancock Building and Kennedy Library; the Bank of China Building in Hong Kongthese are only some of the successful projects that have made I.M. Pei's peerless reputation. Journalist Cannell shrewdly opens with an account of Pei's crowning glory, his renovation of the Louvre. Making his striking addition of a pyramid-shaped entrance to the Parisian palace a reality, Pei showcased the traits which have propelled his career: a visionary sense of urban space, technical brilliance at design, and incomparable salesmanship. After this introduction, Cannell goes back, describing Pei's prominent southern Chinese family and his education at MIT and Harvard. Narrating how Pei established his reputation, Cannell shows superb journalistic abilitiesskills that he displays further in leading his reader through the ups and downs of the complex projects listed above. Cannell is not primarily a critic. Rather than develop an original perspective on Pei's achievement, he offers a range of assessments, at times relying a little too heavily on middlebrow cultural commentators such as Paul Goldberger. What Cannell does do, and it is an important task, is analyze Pei as a power player, showing how well he has dealt with elite, moneyed patrons such as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Paul Mellon. Unfortunately, lack of access to, or perhaps insights from, Pei's closest circle leaves Cannell grasping at straws to explain the architect's inner life. Little is revealed about Pei from such obtuse observations as that he ``came from a civilization that built impossibly grand expressions of power.'' All the same, Pei's public success makes for a great story, one that Cannell adroitly reports. (90 b&w photos, not seen)