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I.M. Pei Dies at Age 102, Having Transformed Dallas and Houston’s Skylines in Legendary Fashion

The Remarkable Texas Work of a City Changing Architect

BY Rebecca Sherman and Catherine D. Anspon // 05.17.19

Renowned architect I.M. Pei, who died at age 102 on Thursday, designed statement-making buildings around the world, notably the Louvre’s stunning glass Pyramid.

Sought after for his elegant use of space and materials, Pei created crisp, precise works of architecture that incorporated technological advances of the era.

Jacqueline Kennedy was a fan and a friend, and chose him over such prestigious architects as Louis Kahn and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, to design the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library in Boston.

Although understated as a person, Pei’s designs were often met with controversy. His 71-foot faceted glass pyramid in the Louvre museum courtyard in Paris received a barrage of criticism when it was unveiled by French President François Mitterrand in 1984. Pei received numerous prestigious awards, including the National Medal of Arts, the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In Dallas and Houston, Pei helped transform skylines with diverse monolithic glass skyscrapers, Brutalist-inspired civic buildings, and elegant geometric arts venues.

Nowhere has his work been more definitive than in Dallas, where he designed four buildings.

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I.M. Pei’s Dallas Legacy 

The Meyerson Symphony Center, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, comprises curvilinear glass and angled concrete forms that are as timeless today as when it was built in 1989.

Dallas' Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center celebrates its 30th this September.
Dallas’ Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center celebrates its 30th this September, a timeless building by I.M. Pei for the performing arts.

Dallas City Hall, built a decade earlier in 1978, is Pei at his most Brutalist-inspired. The building’s cantilevered structure is made from buff-colored concrete, and features a lobby with 100-foot vaulted ceilings.

Sixty-story Fountain Place, built in 1986, is perhaps best recognized as the fictional offices of Ewing Oil in the long-running TV drama, Dallas.

One Dallas Center, formerly Patriot Tower, has changed ownership multiple times since it was built in 1979, and is now a residential tower with unbeatable views to Klyde Warren Park.

Downtown’s Energy Plaza, built in 1983, was based on three triangles — the geometric shape that Pei seems to have most favored.

The Tallest Tower in Texas 

Pei helped redefine Houston’s skyline as well.

Architectural historian Stephen Fox describes Pei’s JPMorgan Chase Tower in the “AIA Houston Architecture Guide” as “the quintessential skyscraper in the polished gray granite suit.”

Texas Commerce Tower, now the JPMorgan Chase Tower, was completed in 1982 on Travis Street in downtown Houston. Built 37 years ago, it still holds the record as the tallest building in Texas. For the first decade of its life, the 75- story, 1,022-foot tower also enjoyed the title of the tallest building in the country west of the Mississippi.

Rice University School of Architecture lecturer and architectural historian Stephen Fox describes the building in the AIA Houston Architecture Guide as “the quintessential skyscraper in the gray granite suit.”

Fox writes of the JPMorgan Chase Tower, “The building is understated and precise in composition and detail but nonetheless aggressive, both in its height, and in its site planning.”

The JP Morgan Chase Tower is also distinguished by a significant piece of public art, which Pei was instrumental in getting the developer , Gerald D. Hines Interests, and the bank to acquire — Joan Miró’s Personage and Birds, 1970.

 

Pei championed important public art at his JPMorgan Chase Tower in downtown Houston, 1982: Joan Miró’s “Personage and Birds,” 1970. (Courtesy of Hines)

Besides this celebrated skyscraper, I.M. Pei & Partners designed a building that is now endangered at Bush Intercontinental Airport — the 1960s-era West Airport Control Tower, which opened when the airport unveiled in 1969. Recently Pei’s tower was the site of an innovative public art installation.

Pei’s Fort Worth Impact

One of Pei’s rare residential structures included the 1969 Westover Hills house for Fort Worth rancher, businesswoman and philanthropist Anne Valiant Burnett Tandy. It’s now occupied by her daughter, Anne Windfohr Marion.

The 20,000-square-foot domicile’s Brutalist design is rendered in concrete and marble, and manages to be both imposing and contemplative. It’s said to be the last residential project Pei ever worked on.

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