Architecture is the very mirror of life.You only have to cast your eyes on buildings to feel the presence of the past, the spirit of a place; they are the reflection of society.
I believe that architecture is a pragmatic art. To become art it must be built on a foundation of necessity.
Success is a collection of problems solved.
Life is architecture and architecture is the mirror of life.
Stop worrying about missed opportunities and start looking for new ones.
Contemporary architects tend to impose modernity on something. There is a certain concern for history but it’s not very deep. I understand that time has changed, we have evolved. But I don’t want to forget the beginning. A lasting architecture has to have roots.
I want to bring out the best in a community and contribute something of permanent value.
It is not an individual act, architecture. You have to consider your client. Only out of that can you produce great architecture. You cannot work in the abstract
You cannot defend your design without knowing what you’re designing for.
Be the best, not necessarily the original.
Let’s do it right. This is for the ages.
Design is something you have to put your hand to.
Great artists need great clients.
I didn’t want to think about a project that I couldn’t finish. That’s a kind of temptation. One has to realize one’s limitations. Why kid yourself?
I cannot work and listen to Wagner at the same time, nor Mahler, nor Beethoven’s late quartets. I enjoy listening to Chopin’s piano music when I work.
François Mitterrand was a student of architecture, he had done a lot of research before he called me. He said, “You did something special at the National Gallery of Art in Washington – you brought the new and the old together.” But John Russell Pope finished the West Building in 1941, so when the East Building opened it was only about 40 years old. But the Louvre is 800 years old! A much bigger design challenge.
I was born in Suzhou, a city not very far from Shanghai. It’s a very interesting town – there is a long artist’s tradition there, especially during the Ming and Ching dynasties, which produced many, many scholars and painters and so forth. That’s where my family lived for 600, 700 years.
I haven’t taken any new projects in the past years – I told myself, if I cannot live long enough to finish it, I don’t want it.
I know something about the civilization of China, with my background, obviously, and I think I know something about American history. But that’s about all. And I’ve traveled all over the world, and for a long time I didn’t know very much about it, really.
At the beginning, I thought the best Islamic work was in Spain – the mosque in Cordoba, the Alhambra in Granada. But as I learned more, my ideas shifted. I traveled to Egypt, and to the Middle East many times.I found the most wonderful examples of Islamic work in Cairo, it turns out. I’d visited mosques there before, but I didn’t see them with the same eye as I did this time. They truly said something to me about Islamic architecture.
Qatar does not have much history, it’s a new emirate. So I couldn’t draw on the history of the country; its history is really just being a desert. But I thought, the one thing I must learn about for this project is the Islamic faith. So I read about Islam and Islamic architecture, and the more I studied the more I realized where the best Islamic buildings were.
I’ve been active all my life. In 1990 I retired from my firm, I.M. Pei & Partners, and for two years I didn’t do much. Then I started to get kind of antsy, so I decided, I’m going to do some more work. And I chose to do work outside the U.S. because I’ve spent 45 years here and I wanted to learn more about what’s happening in the rest of the world.
When I got the opportunity to do the new wing [the Schauhaus] for the German Historical Museum, for instance, I didn’t see it as an opportunity for my own ego, to do something so exciting that every architectural publication would want to put it on the cover. I accepted it because I knew it was going to be a very difficult project, and I wasn’t sure I could do something exciting there.
Luxembourg was and still is today a crossroads, the place where Germany meets the rest of Europe. The country lost part of its territory to Belgium in the 1800s, and during World Wars I and II the German military overran it. Very few people have visited Luxembourg – when I went there and looked at it, I said, my God, it’s built on a rock. And within the rock they had a castle, and within the city there’s a network of tunnels so the residents could move around and defend themselves. That was of great interest to me.
Many of the projects I’m most proud of are tall buildings, especially the housing projects. In New York I have two: one in Kips Bay and one at New York University. At that time, those projects were most challenging.