Right and below: the Herbert F Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell
University, Ithaca, New York, showing the view from the first floor
overlooking the Appel Lobby in the main building, and the exterior
on opening day in 1973. Between windowless galleries, daylight
offers points of rest, animating the museum
Althoughthe Louvre pyramid, often recognised as his masterwork, created a luminous icon for presenting culture, IM Pei’s early museums were characterised by the harsh shadows of Brutalism.
Project by project, the Chinese-American master
developed a sophisticated, open architectural language.
Pei’s holistic approach for welcoming museum visitors
comprises powerful symbols which use sunlight to
its fullest during the daytime, while employing the
magical glow of illumination in the evening.
Whereas most assessments of the Louvre have
praised the achievements of the luminous pyramid
as seen above the ground, the actual design challenge
lay underground, in offering visitors a successful
subterranean space. Later, Pei transferred his language
to multiple other museum projects, where light was
always a key factor in defining museum experiences.
In a year of celebratory events such as Rethinking Pei:
A Centenary Symposium, which was organised at
Harvard Graduate School of Design, an examination
of Pei’s use of light in museums can contribute an
important cultural emphasis.