JOHN SHATTUCK: Good afternoon, and welcome again to the John F. Kennedy Library. I’m John Shattuck, CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation. On behalf of Paul Kirk and the Board of Directors of the Kennedy Library Foundation, and Deborah Leff, who directs the Library and Museum, let me say how absolutely delighted we are to be able to introduce you this afternoon to the Library’s creative genius, the man who designed this glorious building that is now on the eve of its 25th anniversary. We just couldn’t be happier that I.M. Pei is here.
As you all know, he is one of the foremost architects of our time. He conceived the space we are in and turned it onto our city’s and our nation’s and the world’s most striking architectural landmarks. We are honored to have you here on this beautiful Dorchester fall day. [Applause]
Before saying a few more words of introduction about I.M. Pei and the Kennedy Library, and the history of their relationship, I'd like to offer thanks to the institutions that made these Forums possible, and continue to make them possible, beginning with our lead sponsor, Fleet Boston Bank of America, as well as Boston Capital, the Lowell Institute, WBUR, which as many of you know now broadcasts all of our Forums on Sunday evenings at 8:00, The Boston Globe and Boston.com.
Forty years ago, in 1964, Jacqueline Kennedy set out to select the architect for the library that would become the living memorial to President Kennedy. She asked William Walton, a distinguished artist and chairman of the President’s Fine Arts Commission, to head up the selection process.
Walton’s committee drew up a list of 20 world renowned architects, including such famous names as Mies van der Rohe, Philip Johnson, Paul Rudolph, Louis Kahn and I.M. Pei. Pei was, I believe, the youngest and least well-known of the group at the time, but Bill Walton remembers that he made a very strong impression right away.
“When he showed us his last two buildings,” Walton told the press in 1965, “I remarked that each seemed to be a great step forward. He looked at me and said, ‘Yes, but I feel that I'm on the verge of my greatest work.’” [Laughter] And we all know the history.
At the end of the selection process, Mrs. Kennedy expressed her gratitude to Bill Walton in a letter that’s now in the Kennedy Library Archives, and I'd like to share a portion of that letter with you. “How can I thank you,” she wrote, “for the year of toil and care and love that you have given so that it was possible to choose in the finest way the right architect for Jack’s library. Choosing the architect could have been done in such a haphazard, disastrous way, but you made it possible to do it as it should have been done for him.”
Fifteen years later, at the dedication ceremony, Senator Edward Kennedy added his salute to I.M. Pei. He said he was at the pinnacle of his powers, and he thanked him for creating as Jack’s library this great architectural masterpiece of our time.
Last month, the Dorchester Reporter took stock of what this wonderful building has come to mean over the last 25 years for people from Boston and beyond, and I quote: “From the dignified dedication ceremony in 1979 to the tumult of the Democratic convention in 2004, the Kennedy Library has become a key setting for the state, for the nation and for Dorchester. On land where colonial families once drove cattle, the past and present and future all hold sway.”
As we can tell just by looking around us, I.M. Pei is one of the world’s great visionary architects of public space. Under his creative genius, the very concept of a museum has been transformed from a private enclave for elite connoisseurs to a cultural institution at the center of public life. We’re very proud to say that the Museum of the Kennedy Library is an example of this transformation, and according to an article last month in Newsweek, it is the best example among Presidential libraries.
After designing the Kennedy Library, I.M. Pei went on to create a remarkable series of internationally celebrated museums and other world-class public buildings. These include the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC; the expanded Grande Louvre in Paris, commissioned by French President François Mitterrand; and, dozens of other extraordinary places at the center of public culture all over the world.
I.M. Pei, of course, has been showered with honors for this work. Among the many awards he has received are the Medal of Freedom and the Medal of Liberty from two US Presidents and the Order of Arts and Letters from the President of France. He has been very generous in sharing his awards, for example, by dedicating the honorarium he received for the renown Pritzker Architecture Prize to establish a fund for architects from his native China to study in the United States.
Now, to frame this afternoon’s conversation with I.M. Pei, we are very fortunate to have with us one of the leading architectural writers in America today, and we’re doubly fortunate that he is one of us from Boston, Boston’s own Robert Campbell. [Applause] As the architecture critic for the Boston Globe, I know we are all dazzled by his regular assessments of what happens in Boston. Mr. Campbell received a Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism in 1996. An architect himself, he has lectured widely, has been an artist-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome, and is the author of the widely acclaimed book about Boston’s architecture, City Scapes of Boston: An American City Through Time.
So please join me again in welcoming I.M. Pei and Robert Campbell to the stage of the Kennedy Library as I turn it over to Bob for this wonderful conversation. Thank you. [Applause]
ROBERT CAMPBELL: Doesn’t anybody realize the Red Sox are playing the Yankees today? [Laughter] Fantastic turnout! I appreciate it very much, and of course this is the magnet for it.
We’re just going to have an informal conversation, and I thought it would be fun to start at the beginning, your growing up in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Your father is an official of the Bank of China, your mother is a flutist playing Chinese music, and at the age of 17, according to your biographers, you’ve seen so many Bing Crosby movies and similar movies, and especially one called College Life, you decided life in America at college would be a lot of fun and games. [Laughter] So you came here at 17, on your own. Why did you do that?
I.M. PEI: Well, like all young people, I was a student in China at that time …
MR. CAMPBELL: Are we having trouble being heard? Should I repeat what I said? God forbid. [Laughter]
MR. PEI: I did look at those movies, and we all liked movies in those days, and I remember Bing Crosby and Betty Grable. I said, my gosh, if college life were like that! That’s why I wanted to go. My father did not agree; it took a lot of persuasion before he allowed me to come.
So I was lucky. I didn’t have to look for a fellowship. My father had some means at that time and he said that education is the most important thing he can give his children, and he said, “Yes, I'm going to find it possible for you to come.” So I came. And I'm grateful to him ever since.
MR. CAMPBELL: And you came originally to Penn and -- not to offend anyone here, but we are all Boston people, I hope -- you decided after two weeks at Penn that you were in the wrong place and you went to MIT.
MR. PEI: Yes, I arrived at Penn early, and the dean then, I think Mr. Cohn, I forget his name now, very well-known educator, gave me a personal tour of the drafting room and I remember on the stair landing of the School of Architecture there was a huge painting. I thought it was a painting, but actually it was a rendering of a monastery in Tibet. I said, my gosh, a monastery in Tibet. Then I look at the name, it was an Irish name. [Laughter] Here, I'm Chinese and I don’t know anything about Tibet. How is it possible that he would be able to imagine what Tibet would be like? I said this is not for me. So I left.
MR. CAMPBELL: And you came to MIT and you got an undergraduate degree in architecture.
MR. PEI: No, I enrolled in the School of Engineering first, and it was Dean Emerson -- and none of you will remember that name, he’s Waldo Emerson’s great-grandson, I believe -- who persuaded me. He was then Dean. He said,
“Why don’t you come to the School of Architecture?” I said, “Dean, I don’t know how to draw.” “Nonsense, I don’t know of any Chinese that don’t know how to draw.” [Laughter] That’s why I decided to go to architecture.
MR. CAMPBELL: I remember seeing you once in a conversation with Philip Johnson in which he made some remark about how you still didn’t know how to draw. [Laughter] And you replied that you had not been planning to refer to the fact that Philip couldn’t draw either. [Laughter]
MR. PEI: The two of us.
MR. CAMPBELL: Then you went to graduate school at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and you were with an incredible generation of people -- Philip Johnson, Paul Rudolph, Edward Larabee Barnes -- people who were a generation who really transformed American architecture under Walter Gropius, who of course had come there to be chairman, and Marcel Breuer. Do you want to say a word about what was the atmosphere in the school?
MR. PEI: Well, I was at Harvard twice; the first part of it wasn’t so exciting, because all the Americans were at war. The young people were at the war, and most of my classmates were from South America. But then I stayed there for six months and then I joined the NDRC. I don’t know whether you know what that is, it doesn’t matter. I decided even though I was not a citizen, China already declared war and I should play a part. So I did.
I went to Princeton to do research for the Air Force, and two-and-a-half years later I came back, and that’s when I met Philip, Rudolph, Barnes and the rest of them. It was an exciting time then. They all came back from the war. Or some of them did anyway.
MR. CAMPBELL: Was college as much fun as the movies had led you to believe?
MR. PEI: No. [Laughter] Because MIT is not a Bing Crosby/Betty Grable type of school. [Laughter]
MR. CAMPBELL: I'm going to skip over some years and get to the Kennedy Library. H.H. Richardson was once asked by a young architect, as I'm sure you know, “What’s the most important thing for an architect,” and Richardson said, “Get the first job.” Then the student said, “Okay, sure, what’s the second most important thing,” and he said, “Getting the next job.” How did you get this job?
MR. PEI: Which one? This one?
MR. CAMPBELL: Yeah.
MR. PEI: Pure luck. I, on invitation, came to join Mies, Philip, Lou Kahn, and then also, I think, Niemeyer from Brazil, and a few others.
MR. CAMPBELL: Gordon Bunshaft, I think.
MR. PEI: Gordon Bunshaft, maybe. Yes, I think he was there, too. At the RitzCarlton Hotel. We had a first meeting with Bill Walton, Jackie Kennedy, and I believe -- I've forgotten whether Bobby Kennedy was there. I think he was there, too. Then they introduced the subject that they would like to build a library, but they don’t know where. But they would like to select an architect, and would we be interested to go further, to take the next step with them. And, of course, they have to make the decision who should be part of that step.
I was lucky to be included in that step and then to go to Hyannisport. That meeting turned out to be a very important one for me, because it gave me a chance to meet Bobby and also Jackie. And Bill Walton. And we became great friends after that.
MR. CAMPBELL: Robert Kennedy said at that time they were looking for someone young and relatively unknown, as Jack had been young and relatively unknown, and you were born within a month of each other, you and Jack Kennedy. Jackie said, “He was so full of promise, like Jack; they were born a month apart in 1917.” She also said of you -- I loved looking these things up this morning -- she said of you, “He was like a wonderful hunting dog when you slip the leash.” [Laughter]
MR. PEI: Did she say that?
MR. CAMPBELL: She said that.
MR. PEI: I didn’t know.
MR. CAMPBELL: What she meant by that was that you were always looking for the scent, always looking for the right thing to do. I assume that’s what she meant anyway. I have very little experience with hunting dogs. You were up against Kahn, Mies, Rudolph, Bunshaft, Johnson and John Carl Wernecke, who was a great friend of Jack’s.
The site, of course, moved around, and I don’t want to spend all day on that, which we easily could, but it was going to be on the Cambridge site, where the Kennedy School of Government is now. Then it was moved across the river to a business school site, which then was decided was too small. Moved back to the Cambridge site, for which you made at least two designs. And I saw you present one of those in a basement in a church in Cambridge somewhere, and I was very impressed by the skill with which you used an apparent shyness and difficulty with the English language in order to win everybody’s sympathy. [Laughter]
MR. PEI: No, it’s true.
MR. CAMPBELL: Even though you obviously had no difficulty. Anyway, do you want to talk about the politics of that very difficult time?
MR. PEI: It really is a very sad story. It started with lots of promise and the site, the ... (inaudible) site was Jackie’s first choice, and also mine. Then when we reviewed our interests, at that time it was, I think, Dr. Pusey was president then, Bobby Kennedy was also behind it, and we tried very hard to get the site. And we encountered unexpected antagonism. 1965 or ’66, something around that time. It just somehow seemed a lot of antagonism in Cambridge. Was it from Harvard? I wasn’t sure. Maybe. Was it from the community? Maybe. But maybe from Boston also. Anyway, we encountered tremendous difficulty. They talked about the Library and the School of Government combined on that site. They say, “Library? You're going to bring millions of people here, the traffic will be impossible, it will be chewing gum everywhere,” that sort of thing.
MR. CAMPBELL: Let me quote one of your opponents who many of us in this room know, Pebble Gifford, who spoke of the “gum-chewing, paper-throwing, sneaker-wearing crowd.” [Laughter]
MR. PEI: That’s right. So we were discouraged from even pursuing it further. Then Harvard offered an alternative site, which was across the river, next to the business school. Jackie didn’t like it because right there was the Con-Ed-- is it Con-Ed? Electric company, Boston Ed?
MR. CAMPBELL: It was then Boston Edison. They’re on the other side of the river.
MR. PEI: Big chimneys right there. We say no, we wouldn’t want to put a library here. So that was the end of our relationship of trying to find a site at Harvard. From that point on, it’s a very long and very sad story, because after 1968, that’s a very, very tragic year as you all know, we were just not welcome anymore. We went to South Boston, we went to Navy Yard, we went to Amherst; we went all over the place and tried.
MR. CAMPBELL: Looking for a site.
MR. PEI: Looking for a site, because we were rejected at Harvard. But Harvard did retain what they wanted. I think under Derek Bok, I think they got the School of Government, they wanted that, but they didn’t want the Library. They said if you separate the two, we’ll let the School of Public Administration come in the name of John F. Kennedy, but the Library has to go somewhere else.
MR. CAMPBELL: Bill Walton referred to the Cambridge enemies as “upper class hippies.” It was fascinating to be a witness, as I was. I was fascinated by the power of citizen activism. The only people in favor of the Kennedy Library were Harvard University, the federal government and the Kennedy family. That was all. And they got beat.
MR. PEI: They got beat is right.
MR. CAMPBELL: What was your first reaction when you saw the Columbia Point site?
MR. PEI: Before I talk about this site, I want to introduce you to my collaborator for many years after 1968, Ted Musho; he’s right there. [Applause] Ted actually saved me, because after 1968, I was so disappointed. I really lost a lot of zip, and to pick it up was very difficult because we were rejected. We made so many plans, Ted and I, and they were all rejected for one reason or another. So there’s only so much one can take, and I was at the end of my … and Ted picked me up, and he carried on. In fact, this wing, Steve Smith’s wing, is designed by him. I'm very grateful to him for being here today.
To come back to your question about Columbia Point, when we were offered Columbia Point at that time, next to UMass, we looked at it, and at that time you have no idea what this place was; it was a dump.
MR. CAMPBELL: It had literally been a dump, yes.
MR. PEI: When we excavated, we found old sinks and old refrigerators and things of that kind. There was actually methane gas coming out of the soil. You can light a match on it and then it’d burn. [Laughter] It was that bad, I'm not exaggerating, it’s true. So when I looked at it, I said, my gosh, from Harvard Yard to this site? [Laughter] It was quite a comedown. But we didn’t give up.
Then we had to select a site within. There were quite a few acres to select, and there was strong, I think on the part of the Library people as well, to build this on the Bay-- is it the Bay side, opposite UMass? I don’t know where-- at low tide it’s very bad. So I told them, no, this is not the site, it shouldn’t be there, it should be somewhere else. So we picked this Point, we had to create this Point; there was nothing there. Jack Fallon, who I will not forget, helped us a lot.
MR. CAMPBELL: What was the advantage of this Point as opposed to the inner Bay site from your point of view?
MR. PEI: First of all, we’re away from UMass. I'm not trying to criticize the architect of UMass, but UMass is so big, so huge, it’s overwhelming.
MR. CAMPBELL: It’s okay to criticize architecture.
MR. PEI: Okay for you, but not for me! [Laughter] There’s another reason, the important reason for me, really. It has promise, it has possibilities, but it has to go this Point. Why? Because you see Boston. And I know this is what our President would like to have, so that he can be here and look at South Boston and Boston itself. I think that’s the reason. And it's surrounded by water that isn't smelly at low tide.
MR. CAMPBELL: Let’s talk about the design of the building. You’d already designed it 14 times over for Cambridge and now you were doing it one more time. What were your thoughts? You are famous among architects for your interest in geometry and in intersecting geometries, and I wonder if maybe that’s one way you could talk about this. We had the slides up here before and people must have seen that in the plans. I don’t want to tell you what to say, but how did you approach the problem as a designer?
MR. PEI: Well, geometry is basic to architecture, and especially for a beginning architect, which I was at that time. I think it was very important to stay to that and try to make something out of it. And it’s infinite possibilities. Even today, I still stay with it and I find I'm able to do different things out of geometry, a geometric composition, but this is one of the really ones, and I think it looks quite good today under the sun. So I'm quite satisfied.
MR. CAMPBELL: Do you begin with sketches? Do you begin with models? How does your process work? This, of course, is not the part of the building you did, but I mean that ended in this building.
MR. PEI: I think I had to think about the President, what would he like it to be; I think that’s number one. And I had at that time Jackie with me to think about that, to work with. Actually, she was very active until ’68. After that, less so. But those three or four years, three years, I'd say, ’65-’68, she actually participated in talking about what she would like to see. And she didn’t say what it should be, but she did tell me, “Please don’t put Jack in the form of a statue or a bust, because I don’t want that, I don’t think he would like that.” So, therefore, that’s why this pavilion here that you see is empty; there’s no statue, no bust, nothing. Just space. But more important than space, the space is very simple space. It frames the view of Boston.
Now, we already knew at that time that the design would have to, particularly for the family, it would have to tell its story. The President’s sisters were very active in trying to decide how to tell a story. It was, I think, Ivan ... (inaudible) working on that one; you probably know that. So when I saw that project that Ivan worked up, I said, my, this is a very rich story; it’s going to be full of interesting things.
When you finish with that story, I think, we come into the Pavilion. You should see nothing, and just be empty and just a flag to say he was President of the United States. And that’s all we did. And Jackie Kennedy accepted that. She said, “That’s exactly what I want.”
MR. CAMPBELL: You set up a very interesting progression through the building. You come up the driveway, you see the building against the sky. You park, you come across, you come in, and you have a view of the Pavilion, but you can’t get to it. You go down to the right, through the movie theaters and all of the displays, and then you emerge now fully into the Pavilion. So you really conceived it as a kind of Stations of the Cross almost, a set of experiences.
MR. PEI: It was that. We did plan it that way.
MR. CAMPBELL: Are you happy with it?
MR. PEI: I think so. I haven't seen it for a long, long time, but I did have a glimpse of it from upstairs looking down. I think that’s a good view, by the way. I don’t know whether you’ve got up to the fifth floor. Is it the fifth floor where you were?
MR. CAMPBELL: None of these people are allowed to the fifth floor. [Laughter]
MR. PEI: That’s the best place to look at Boston.
MR. CAMPBELL: If they'd stop chewing gum and throwing paper. [Laughter] It’s a modern building, and I was again looking through books this morning and JFK wrote to another architect, not you, about a building that he was doing for the federal government. He quoted Paracles, “We do not imitate for we are the example to others.” Kennedy wrote to this architect this quote from Paracles. Do you feel that way about the need to do something that is of your own time? It’s a very controversial issue now, as you know.
MR. PEI: Of course. I can’t say that I succeeded, but I say that we certainly wanted this. In fact, this was, and still is to me, the most important project, really. And I wanted it to be the best. As I said, I'm sad in a way that I wasn’t able to achieve that, for the difficulties we encountered. I mean, it took 14 years to build this thing. By the time we get around to doing this building, it was 1976. It only took us three years. Ted and I worked on it for three years, from 1976 to 1979, to do this building; to make the plan, to do everything and build it.
So a very short time. And by then, another thing which is important, we ran out of money. I don’t know whether you remember, back in 1964/’65, after the assassination of the President, the Foundation raised something like $23 million in a matter of months -- nickels and dimes from schoolchildren, 23 million. They said that’s enough money, let’s start. Then after ’68, try to get money; money just simply didn’t flow.
So when we started to build this project, we found we had nothing, very little to work with. Very, very little. In fact, I think the Kennedy family had to come in with a big sum of money to make it possible to do this building. It’s not public money anymore; the family also contributed to it.
So lack of money, that’s why the finish of this building is not as good as it should be. There are many good things that we would have liked to introduce here, we weren't able to do so.
MR. CAMPBELL: If you had had another $20 million, what would you have done differently?
MR. PEI: I don’t know! At that time, I had 100 ideas, but today I no longer want that money. No, I think the finish can be better. This is a precast concrete building, and because the job was pretty well done, it’s well maintained. But I would have used stone. It’s a noble material; I love stone. You probably know that nearly all of my projects, like the National Gallery or the Louvre, we all used stone. I would like stone for this building; it’s permanence. And the glass and metal part also could be better, I think. But it’s mostly in details. The details are not as important to most people as it is to architects.
MR. CAMPBELL: You were on a site; there’s an awful lot of ocean and bay around here. It must have been very difficult to make a building that would have any prominence, any presence on such a big site. Was that an issue for you?
MR. PEI: We have to do two things. First, is to put it at the Point. Then you are far away from everything else because we have to have a lot of parking spaces anyway. And the second is landscaping. At that time, this place was completely barren, there was nothing here; nothing grows here. We had to bring in a lot of topsoil. And now I came and was so happy to see all those trees, tiny little trees now 30 feet high.
I think landscaping is what really saved us in many ways. The building is a very, very simple building, and against the sky it’s very good. I rather like that. But I think that when you exit from the building, you see a big parking lot. 1979, I think when we opened, that’s what you saw, a big parking lot. But no longer; you see trees, and that’s wonderful.
MR. CAMPBELL: It’s a very vertical building. You could have done the same building two stories high and spread it out, maybe been more efficient on the office and research floors. I'm just guessing, but was there something in you that wanted to push it up high?
MR. PEI: I'm trying to recollect how it happened that way. I think, first of all, we have to frame the large glass pavilion. If you don’t have the building higher than the pavilion, then all you see is the glass pavilion.
MR. CAMPBELL: And you always had a glass pavilion. You had a cone at one time in the Cambridge design, and then later you had a pyramid in the Cambridge design. Why did you feel there had to be a glassy pavilion of some kind?
MR. PEI: Because I love light, I just like light. I think light makes me feel alive, and I think everybody else as well. I did it at the Louvre, tiny little …
MR. CAMPBELL: You finally got my pyramid.
MR. PEI: But it’s a different context. It’s not a complete pyramid like at the Harvard Square, but it’s a partial pyramid. But the two pyramids have nothing in common. Another reason, I think, we sort of liked to have the administrative and that part of the Library to be detached from the exhibits, because we knew we’re going to have a large public come, and we don’t want them to be on the same level, because it would be difficult to work under that circumstance.
MR. CAMPBELL: Did you travel around and look at other Presidential libraries? There weren't so many then; now they're all over the place.
MR. PEI: Not too many to look at at that time. I think I did look at the Truman Library. And I also looked at FDR, Hyde Park. And maybe one more. Johnson, yes, I looked at the Johnson Library.
MR. CAMPBELL: In fact, the Johnson Library was built to your program, wasn’t it?
MR. PEI: That was after by Bunshaft.
MR. CAMPBELL: I remember reading somewhere that the program of uses and spaces inside the Presidential Library -- because you weren’t building yours and Johnson was building his, you sent them your program.
MR. PEI: And that’s why I went to see it. They started later, but they got it built first. And they had a lot of money to spend.
MR. CAMPBELL: They built a horrible building.
MR. PEI: Oh, I don’t know. You're a tough critic. [Laughter]
MR. CAMPBELL: The Johnson Library is one of the more depressing buildings I've ever seen. [Laughter] See, they're all applauding. I'm going to quote you again: “I like simplicity, but at the same time I don’t like monotony. So, therefore, the question arises, how can you reconcile the two.” How do you reconcile the two?
MR. PEI: I've been in practice now almost 50 years. I would say it's been a problem I've been dealing with all along. I want to combine the two and it’s possible, but it needs a lot of work to get it. That’s why also, using geometry. I really use geometry, even today. I'm not embarrassed about it, I think that’s a basic of architecture. I think today, even if you look at Frank Gehry’s building, you see geometry there, too, even though it’s probably the least geometrical building I could mention. But geometry is always there. And if you don’t deal with it and do it imaginatively, then I think you fail. Look at Sant’Ivo, Borromini.
MR. CAMPBELL: Borromini’s church in Rome.
MR. PEI: Geometry! My gosh, it’s one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever seen. I think it’s probably the most beautiful in Rome. So if you go to Rome again, look at Sant’Ivo.
MR. CAMPBELL: Be sure you get the hours right.
MR. PEI: Look at the geometry of that plan and the niches, how it builds up. So, therefore, there’s endless possibility to nuance of this design.
Now, another thing I've learned in geometry is this: As we started in the beginning of a building such as this one, there are actually a few vanishing points. I'm sorry, I'm being technical about it. As you gradually get into working with more complex geometry, such as Baroque buildings -- I think Baroque is a wonderful period in architecture. Borromini is Baroque. If you go to northern Germany, to Austria, or northern Italy, see those new churches, the pilgrimage churches, they're the best buildings I've seen, and they're all geometrical. And yet, because of refinement, using curves, which I'm beginning to do, you can then create wonderful feeling.
You see St. Peter’s, when you walk into St. Peter’s, it’s just like this processional, one direction processional, and you get to the ... (inaudible) and then you to into the ... (inaudible), but you go to these pilgrimage churches, they're curvilinear. Geometry is just the same, and the feeling’s entirely different. When you walk through it, space moves. So that, I think, is why I say that there are a lot of possibilities with geometry. It’s a question of your skill as an architect to exploit it.
MR. CAMPBELL: I never would have thought I would hear you say that Baroque churches are your favorite buildings in the world.
MR. PEI: I wish I could approach it. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t try.
MR. CAMPBELL: I'm going to quote two things that have been said negatively about this building -- not by me -- and I'm sure you're familiar with them, and I'd like you to comment on them. The first is by John Dixon, who is an editor of Architectural Record Magazine. “The buildings’ forms lack the underlying formal order one expects of a Pei work and the blank surfaces fail at close range to exhibit the refined, eternal-looking qualities for which the firm is noted. The whole architectural experience is one of incomplete gestures, thwarted satisfactions.” How do you respond to that?
MR. PEI: I think the lack of intricacy on the surface, the monotony of the surface came partly because of lack of means. There are so many things you can do with stone that you cannot do with a building such as this. And if we were able to use stone, first of all you get scale.
MR. CAMPBELL: And you like to use stone that had a varying texture.
MR. PEI: Absolutely. You have texture, you have color. You have nature coming to help you. Precast cannot be, really, a noble material; it can never be. But it’s the least expensive way to build at that time, the only way we could afford to build. Also, with stone you can have details. It’s very difficult to get details into a precast concrete, I think.
I think, on the other hand, I think the spatial sequence that you mentioned earlier, I think that is successful. I really have nothing to apologize for that. And also, when you go inside, the part that I like -- since somebody’s criticizing me, I might as well blow my own horn on it -- when you walk into the big, glass pavilion and you walk around it, the curvilinear space there is very successful.
MR. CAMPBELL: That’s the big fin that comes down, and then the curve.
MR. PEI: And the concave curve comes down. That part is very successful as a space. I like that.
MR. CAMPBELL: Second negative quote, Carter Wiseman, who wrote a whole book about your work and is a great admirer of yours, as you know: “As monument all the right moves, soaring, gleaming, thrusting. Exterior geometry is too obvious as if the parts had been ordered from a pay catalog and assembled according to an instruction book.”
MR. PEI: Partly guilty, but not entirely so. [Laughter] I think Dixon’s criticism I think I would accept. If this building had been built a rich-colored stone, it would have been much, much better. It would give detail to it, which I can’t with this building. But I think, yes, the form is probably pretty simple and straightforward, and I think a monument should be like that, it should be simple, provided it’s successfully done. I don’t apologize for simplicity at all. I wasn’t able to give the kind of refined proportions and formal relationship that I would have liked to do if I had more time.
MR. CAMPBELL: You're a great fan of Bach and the idea of many variations on a simpler repeating theme, or at least you’ve been quoted as saying that, which I think is related to what you're saying now, but it also reminds me that to the astonishment of all your fellow architects, you designed the Rock and Roll Museum in Cleveland, and I wonder how you trained yourself to appreciate …
MR. PEI: It was very difficult. [Laughter] I can’t say I don’t like rock-and-roll. I like the beat. But I had to be taught. When Ahmet Urtigan -- you probably know him.
MR. CAMPBELL: I know who he is; he’s the great rock-and-roll promoter.
MR. PEI: When Ahmet Urtigan came to me for this one, I said, Ahmet, you came to the wrong person, you should talk to my children, it’s their generation. “Oh, no, no, we want you. We have too many people who claim that they know all about rock-and-roll. But you claim you don’t know anything about rock-and-roll, so you're just the right person.” [Laughter] “Let us educate you.” So, therefore, we took a trip together. There were six of us, I think, including my wife, three couples. We went down to Memphis …
MR. CAMPBELL: To Graceland?
MR. PEI: Yes, Graceland. It’s a horrible place. [Laughter] Have you ever been there? I saw his Cadillac parked there. And those elephant chairs, I've never seen huge chairs with real elephant feet. But that did not dim my interest in rock-androll. [Laughter] It made me want to learn more. We went to the Memphis Café, a wonderful café there where all the -- I think today, the Hall of Famers, they all played there, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame initiated these people. If you look at that list, they’ve all started there, it seems like they started there.
Then we went down to New Orleans to study jazz. I like jazz. So all of a sudden I find myself into it. Anyway, that trip took about altogether a week, maybe ten days. It was an education. I cannot say that I was completely educated when I started the design, but at least I did not design this building with no knowledge at all, rather with some knowledge.
MR. CAMPBELL: I'd like to talk a little bit about what you're doing now, if that’s all right. You retired from your firm, it’s now 15 years ago, and you’ve been working on your own and sometimes with your two sons who are architects since then. Why did you make that break, and how has it worked out?
MR. PEI: I've been practicing first with William Zeckendorf, the first ten years of my practice was with this wonderful real estate person. You have no idea, our interaction has been something I will never forget. And for ten years I've been doing that. But that was a time there was very little going on in the United States. That was back in the late-‘40s and early ‘50s. We just came back from the war, there was very little going on, except one thing -- urban redevelopment. That was the only thing architects could find work.
So I did a lot of planning and a lot of housing, very low cost housing. And that period lasted maybe another ten years, I would say. Then after 20 more years, it became first ... (inaudible) and I'm paying associates and I'm paying partners, and at that time I said, now I think the next generation should take charge. So I turned it over to very capable hands, and Ted is one of them; Ted is an associate partner with the firm now. We have Harry Cobb. We have Jim Freed, who did the Holocaust Museum in Washington. I think Pei Cobb & Freed today is one of the best firms. I'm looking back at it from the outside, and I think I did the right thing.
And also gave myself a little chance to think about what next, because I found that I wasn’t moving, I was not progressing. After a certain point, you really feel you should stop and think about things. And I did stop for about a year. For one year I didn’t do anything, I didn’t look for any work. I just tried to complete what I had started in the firm, and that’s about all.
But in 1990, I left the firm; in 1993, I began to stir, let’s put it this way. And I decided I wanted to know more about the world. So I decided to go abroad. And I have. I have practically no work in the United States.
MR. CAMPBELL: You did the hotel on 57th Street.
MR. PEI: Yes, I did that.
MR. CAMPBELL: What’s the name of it? I'm blanking on it.
MR. PEI: Four Seasons. Mostly for a friend. A friend who was then the chairman of Regent Hotel came to me and said they would like me to do something. I said I know nothing about hotels.
MR. CAMPBELL: But you knew nothing about rock-and-roll. [Laughter]
MR. PEI: It’s always the first one. But the second one is always better, I think. I've done many museums now. I think my museums today are better than the ones I did earlier, including this one. But I did want to know more about the world.
My experience at the Louvre was unbelievable, perhaps the most important -- this one included -- educational experience. I was able to look into history. I was able for the first time to say a project cannot begin from scratch, it has to go back.
So I went into French history. I studied French history, which is almost the same as the history of the Louvre. History of the Louvre and history of France is almost the same. Very much unexpected on my part until I looked into it. I became interested in history. Therefore, I say, well, there’s much to learn. I thought I knew Paris, but I didn’t. I've been to Paris many times, but I didn’t know Paris at all until I did the Louvre.
And so I decided that maybe the same is true elsewhere. I went back to China and looked at China with a fresh pair of eyes, and I'm doing something there now.
MR. CAMPBELL: You did the Miho Museum near Kyoto also, which is one of the buildings that I hope to see some today. It looks wonderful, but I haven't seen it.
MR. PEI: It's not difficult to get to. Kyoto, by the way, is an exciting place. You should all go there.
MR. CAMPBELL: I have done the Imperial Gardens in Kyoto.
MR. PEI: No, this is different. There are many other things to see in Kyoto. [Laughter] I wasn’t joking, it’s true. I've done work now in Germany, in England, in Luxembourg, my home town in China; I finally decided to do something for where my family has been for 700 years. And also, I hope it’s not shocking to you, I'm doing something on the Persian Gulf.
MR. CAMPBELL: What are you doing on the Persian Gulf?
MR. PEI: I'm doing an Islamic art museum in Qatar, which is on the Persian Gulf. It’s a small country where we have our most powerful Air Force base there now. But when that project was offered to me, I decided to take it, even though I knew nothing about Islam, and I wanted to learn about Islam. And that’s the best way to learn, is to do a job there. I can say now, I know a little bit about Islam now, I know some of the problems that we encounter in this country and thanks to that project. The project’s under construction.
MR. CAMPBELL: Your firm had become so big and successful at about the time you left, I'm wondering, did you feel the pressure that you were getting all the jobs and doing a lot of administration and didn’t have time to be a designer, and is that why you're doing what you're doing now?
MR. PEI: Yes, there’s a bit of that, yes. When I left the firm in 1990, the firm was in good shape. Harry Cobb was getting work, becoming an important architect in his own right, and so is Jim Freed. So today they're doing well, so therefore I think that I left at the right time, because the firm was able to grow.
And for me, it’s also the right time because then I, too, am able to look at different things in life which interest me, and I wanted to learn more about the world, and I'm able to do that now. I wasn’t able to do that before. You're right.
MR. CAMPBELL: Sounds great to me. And your two sons have a firm called, is it Pei and Pei?
MR. PEI: Pei Partnership. In 1990, I left. I think my sons were still there at I.M. Pei & Partners at that time. I think they left the firm maybe a year or two later to try to form their own, I think maybe 1993. And then I say, well, maybe they need a helping hand, so I gave them a helping hand. So I worked both sides; I worked at Pei Cobb & Freed, and I also worked for Pei Partnership. Today, I spend two days at Pei Cobb & Freed and three days at Pei Partnership.
MR. CAMPBELL: One of your architect sons, Sandy, went to the Graduate School of Design and took a course that I taught in housing. He came into class one day wearing a button and the button said “I.M. Pei And You Are Not.” [Laughter]
MR. PEI: He still suffers from that one.
MR. CAMPBELL: He’s a very charming guy. Philip Johnson said more than once that you were the best politician among architects that he knew. He even said somewhere, “Pei has moves that we don’t even know about.” Coming from Philip Johnson, whose reputation is that of the ultimate cultural politician, I wonder how you feel about that. Do you think you're that great?
MR. PEI: Oh, you know Philip, you don’t take him that seriously. He jokes half the time, so I don’t think so. I'm not a politician. If I were, I wouldn’t be practicing, I'd be doing something else. No, I don’t think so.
MR. CAMPBELL: You got the job at the Louvre through President Mitterrand, even though other architects were in some kind of competition for it. He passed over all them for you. Why did that happen?
MR. PEI: That’s interesting. It’s not because of me, I can tell you that. I can tell you the story, how it happened. In 1981, Mitterrand was elected, and in those days he had seven years to remain as president; now it’s five years. So he said, “During my first seven-year term, I want to do something important.” He was a person that knew a lot about architecture, I can tell you that. He’s a very cultured and cultivated person. Not popular in France, but nevertheless I admired him a lot.
He, at that time, decided something’s wrong with the Louvre, something should be done with the Louvre. He didn’t know what. Therefore, he had created a Grand Louvre committee to do this project. One of the persons that was in charge of this, now a very good friend of mine, canvassed probably all over the world, the Western world at least -- Europe and America -- talked to all the museum directors and asked them which architect would they recommend to do something like the Louvre. Everybody suggested somebody else, A, B, C, D, E, F. But I was always on the list at number two. [Laughter] That’s what Berzini (?) told me. He said, “You're always number two.” Somehow that meant something to him, so he wanted to see me and we did.
MR. CAMPBELL: I had never heard that story.
MR. PEI: He’s still alive, so you can talk to him about that. Still alive, that’s a sad story, isn't it? All my friends who helped me on this project, like Steve Smith and Jack Fallon are no longer here.
So he asked to see me, and I was very frank with him. I said I know what’s wrong with the Louvre, but I don’t know what is the right thing to do, because I don’t know enough about it. So he said, “What would you do if you were given this commission?” First of all, I wouldn’t accept it because I wasn’t qualified. I'm not being modest, that’s exactly what I said. He said, “Suppose we offer you this commission, what would you want to do?” I said let me think about it, so I came back to the United States and I think it was 1984, or ’85, ’84 he came to New York to see me, and I told him yes, I would be interested in doing it, but I want to do it with a condition, and that is to give me four months. “What will you do with the four months?” I said I want a laissez-passe to the Louvre, I want it to be kept completely in confidence because once the French architects know you're the one, they will kill you! [Laughter] I knew that. It happened to me once before. That was in ... (inaudible) France; that’s another story.
I want four months, I said, I want to study the history of the Louvre. Because I didn’t know, when did it begin? I didn’t know who was Philippe Auguste, I didn’t know at the time. So those four months were most instructive. I learned about
French history. I learned about the Louvre. I learned about what’s wrong with the Louvre, and I think I knew after the four months what to do with the Louvre. And then I saw Mitterrand, and I told him what I would do.
MR. CAMPBELL: In those four months, none of those other French architects said to themselves or to each other, “What is this guy doing studying so much history of the Louvre?”
MR. PEI: No, they didn’t know. Confidence was absolutely kept. I had only one person that I talked to, and he was the number two man at the Louvre. He was the only one that knew that I was there, expect Berzini and perhaps Mr. Mitterrand.
So I wasn’t being a politician at all, I'm just curious. I was a curious person and I wanted to learn. And wanting to learn is not wrong; it turned out to be the right thing. In fact, clients like to know that. They want to hear from you that you are not there yet. You want to learn so that you can do something for them.
MR. CAMPBELL: I can’t imagine a better sales technique than to say to a client, “I can’t take this job until I've had four months to study.”
Anyway, we’re at 4:00, and I was told at 4:00 I should throw this open to the audience. There are microphones in the aisles, and anyone who has comments or questions for Mr. Pei, please step up.
MR. PEI: If you are anxious about going to Fenway Park or listening to it, please do so. [Laughter] In fact, that’s what I'm going to do soon.
MR. CAMPBELL: The ushers will be coming by to strap you in your seats.
Q: First of all, a pleasure to have you speak. It seems to me that every important building is controversial. I've never heard of a building that doesn’t create some problems with the public. How do you deal with that? How do you deal with controversy, especially after the job is done?
MR. PEI: After the job is done, it’s easy. [Laughter] It’s during and before; that’s what’s difficult. The most difficult one of all, I can tell you that, is the Louvre, and I don’t need to elaborate on it, but it’s the Louvre. The French, as Mr. Bush has found out, are not easy to deal with. [Laughter]
MR. CAMPBELL: But now it’s on all their postcards. It’s a national icon, the glass pyramid.
Q: Would you please tell me, your firm, its involvement with Harbor Towers in Boston?
MR. CAMPBELL: Harbor Towers, what was your involvement?
MR. PEI: Very little. It was done by Harry Cobb. By then, I'd already built four or five housing developments in other parts of the country, and I decided that’s time enough, I've done enough of it, so Harry took over. And he’s a Bostonian and it was the right place and right time for him to do it.
I've done Kip’s Bay, Philadelphia Society Hill, and a few others already by then, and I decided I've done enough urban housing. So I had nothing to do with it. Or little to do with it, let’s put it this way.
MR. CAMPBELL: It’s worth mentioning, I think, that your partners operated sometimes quite independently, and Harry Cobb did, I believe, the Government Center plan, and of course the Moakley Courthouse and the John Hancock Tower, and you were within the office but not principal on any of those.
MR. PEI: Except Government Center. Ed Logue was a very active client, and I had to be there. I remember that project quite well. That was Scully Square in those days, and now it’s Government Center. But John Hancock, Harry Cobb. Harry Cobb did John Hancock, and John Hancock, to me, is still one of the most beautiful office buildings. And he should get the credit for it. [Applause]
Q: You mentioned briefly a building in your old stamping grounds at MIT, Frank Gehry’s Stata Center. It may be the most controversial building in the entire area, and I wonder if each of you would share some of your thoughts about it.
MR. PEI: Are you talking about the Green Building?
Q: The Stata Center.
MR. CAMPBELL: Frank Gehry’s.
MR. PEI: Oh, Frank Gehry’s building. I must tell you this. I've looked at Frank Gehry’s building from the outside; I've not entered it. So I want to see the inside before I comment on it. Frank Gehry’s buildings, when they're successful, the inside has to be successful. If it’s only on the outside, it’s not enough. His Bilbao project is successful for that reason, because the inside is quite exciting actually. I haven't seen his Symphony Hall in Los Angeles, and I was told that’s very good, too. I think you have to look at the inside to see if all these curvilinear shapes actually contribute to the interior space. And if it does, wonderful. Because it has infinite vanishing points; that’s what I like about it.
Q: If you look back on the Kennedy Library and your encounter with my fellow citizens in Cambridge, are you now grateful to them or are you still angry at them? [Laughter]
MR. PEI: You know, anger fades very easily with time. I was very angry back in the late ‘60s, I was. I was also angry at Harvard, my school, because they made promises they didn’t fulfill. I think I was angry then, but no longer. We’re here, we’re happily here. And at least we’re wanted here, that’s most important. When you feel a community had doubts about you and you somehow have no reason to doubt that, that those doubts are real, then I think it’s better to move away. I think the family did the right thing; I think they moved here and we’re happy here now.
Q: Bob, if I may press the question.
MR. PEI: [inaudible] … we made at Cambridge. In fact, Ted and I worked together on that one. None of them were really right, let’s put it this way. They were only sketches. None of them had a chance to develop. I wish we had developed them, because it’s a much more interesting project if you combine the School of Government with the Library; that’s what it should be. Now the two are split and that, I think, was a difference. It’s a much more interesting program on the Cambridge site than it is here.
Q: As a current Kennedy School student, I can regret that this building is not there, because the jumble of buildings that are there don’t work very well. My question is, when you were designing this building, and you really got into the guts of it, how did your influences at the time and what you learned on this project affect what you did later in your career? And, also, I wonder if you could recommend a few buildings around the world in the last few years, not of your own, but of other architects that have really provoked you and that you admire.
MR. PEI: You have two separate questions here. I’ll take the easy one first. Important buildings in the world, designed and built in our time, I assume, and not built in the past?
MR. CAMPBELL: Recent, he says.
MR. PEI: I think you should see Bilbao by Frank Gehry. It’s one building that I find is designed in the right context. Bilbao is a ship-building city, town, and the site that he chose, or they chose for him to build on, is full of junkyards, of ancient houses, of unfinished ships and things of that kind. And by putting that there, on that little island there, there’s also a little island there, I think this design is right, it’s correct. If you put that building in the middle of Bilbao, I would say it would be wrong, it wouldn’t go. That’s why I do not support the idea that many advance, and I don’t know whether you did or not, why didn’t Frank Gehry do the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I think it would be a disaster. The contextual constraint is such that Frank can have difficulty living with it. But in Bilbao, I think that building is successful. And if you like Frank Gehry’s work, that is a building I would say you should see.
Then another architect that’s done very good work, and only in the last ten years I think, is Renzo Piano. Renzo Piano has done two museums, one for the Beyeler Foundation in Switzerland, in Basal, Switzerland, and the other one recently in Dallas.
MR. CAMPBELL: The Nasher Sculpture Center.
MR. PEI: Beautiful buildings. Absolutely stunning. Simple, very simple, but stunning, both of them. I would say Renzo Piano is an important architect of our time.
Then if you're interested in office buildings, that type of building, I would say Norman Foster. Norman Foster has done some very interesting buildings in London. One is a bullet-shaped building.
MR. CAMPBELL: The Gherkin building.
MR. PEI: They call it the Gherkin building; I call it like a bullet. In the beginning I said, what an ugly building, and it’s still ugly, but if you go into it and look at what is inside, you say, my God, it’s brilliant. They have gardens on every level, it’s wonderful. So I'd say Foster is an important architect for that kind of building. He’s doing an opera house in Dallas now. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out.
There are two great architects for office buildings -- Harry Cobb and Norman Foster.
Q: I'm currently at the School of Design and I was wondering if you could give some advice on how to constructively use the public’s form of participation to help improve the design process. And another part is, how do you plan and design, not only to be immediately successful, but to be successful in future generations? How do you bridge those two challenges?
MR. PEI: Can you help me with this? My ears are not so good.
MR. CAMPBELL: The first question was, how can you use the public participatory process to make a better building?
MR. PEI: Oh, I think that’s important, particularly for a public building. You have to have that. You just don’t do something and say “here you are.” You can’t do that. No, I think it's very important. In fact, I think that’s the time where the architect should take criticism and take it seriously. I think to a large extent, when we withdrew from Cambridge, I was very angry at that time, but looking back at it, I think many of the reasons for their concern were not unreasonable, and I'm happy now, looking back at it, that I went through that process with them. All public buildings should have that, and I'm absolutely convinced of that.
MR. CAMPBELL: Nevertheless, there needs to be a strong client; otherwise, you get to a lowest common denominator and you can only build what nobody opposes. We’re seeing that in the Greenway, I think, here in Boston, and it’s a serious issue. I forget the second half of your question.
Q: The second part was, how do you create a successful design that’s not only successful in the present, but also accepted as successful in the future?
MR. PEI: Ask the critic, that’s all I can say. [Laughter] I don’t know, I have no answer for that. You have to be very good, both at the beginning and also last, and I think your ability of a design is really the true measure of the quality of the design. It’s not fashion, architecture is not fashion. It’s something that has to last, and for that reason, it’s a constraint of some kind, but at the same time, that constraint is what makes it durable if you follow it, if you successfully solve it.
MR. CAMPBELL: That was an easy answer -- just be very good.
MR. PEI: Hard to do, hard to do.
Q: The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were sort of stunning in their simplicity. If the decision were yours, how would you deal with the replacement of the Twin Towers?
MR. PEI: I've been asked that question so many times, I refuse to answer that question. In fact, I avoid thinking about the Twin Towers, I really do. I did, and I still do, simply because it is very, very challenging for an architect to undertake.
I'm just sad that I'm no longer here to do it. It will take many, many years, 10 or 15 years to realize this project, and I won’t be here. And that’s why, by the way, I stopped taking commissions three years ago, for that reason.
MR. CAMPBELL: It’s partly a problem of program. All the architects have been asked to repeat the program that’s on the site now, which means piling 12 million square feet of commercial space, the size of six Hancock Towers, on a property that is two-thirds the size of the Public Garden. You tell me how to solve that.
Q: You said this site was originally a dump. I'm wondering how you went about transforming it into the landscaped space that it is now. And also, you mentioned some recent constructions that are inspiring; what older structures do you think are worth looking at?
MR. PEI: The second question is not clear, but let me answer your first one. Columbia Point, as I said earlier, was a dump. So, therefore, once you look at a site, you say, my gosh, what can I do? Very difficult. The first choice, of course, is where. At that time, the Point was not like that at all. It’s just rubble and so on. So once the Point was chosen, from that point on it’s a step-by-step process, and as I said earlier, the landscaping-- I think Dan Kiley, who was the landscape architect for this project, contributed a lot. So I think we managed the site fairly well. I think that part is successful.
Your second question?
Q: What older buildings, more historical buildings, not of recent vintage, do you find inspiring?
MR. PEI: How far back do I go? I mentioned Sant’Ivo already. I think Frank Lloyd Wright did some wonderful buildings.
MR. CAMPBELL: Which ones in particular?
MR. PEI: I think the ones no longer here. I think the Larkin building is, for me, the best.
MR. CAMPBELL: Larkin Administration Building in Buffalo, torn down in the ‘50s.
MR. PEI: It’s not a house. Everybody thinks of Frank Lloyd Wright as doing houses; it’s not a house, it’s an office building, but it’s very prophetic in many ways, that building. It has a rectangular atrium in the middle. And he designed furniture, lighting, everything else. The Johnson Wax Building, by Wright, Racine, Wisconsin, a good building to look at. You go back in history, then it’s endless, we don’t have enough time.
Q: I just got back from Berlin and I really loved the Deutschen Historischen Museum, moving through the museum and photographing it. Can you talk more about the issues of building a museum, connecting the old one with the new one.
MR. PEI: I'm glad you asked that question, because that building nobody knows. First of all, it’s a very difficult site. You know the site.
Q: Yes, I photograph Berlin.
MR. PEI: It’s ... (inaudible) size. It’s supposed to be an extension of an old, historic museum, a Prussian museum, where there are guns and armors and things like that. But when Helmut Kohl, the then-chancellor, asked me to do this building, he said, “We want people to forget about the war-like part of Germany and to think a little bit about the more constructive side of Germany.” It was very honest on his part to tell me that. He didn’t say it publicly, he said it to me personally. So I said how can you do it? He said, “The site is very small, it’s a very funny-shaped site, tiny, little bit of triangle, and see if you can do something with it.” And I look at it, and I say, well, maybe I can. So I tried.
The challenge of that site is simply this. It has to show a piece of the Zeughaus. The Zeughaus is very important in Berlin history. It’s Prussia. It’s really a Prussian museum. The Zeughaus was hidden by those buildings on that side, and if you removed those buildings, you can see the Zeughaus in its entirety. And we did. We removed the building and put a glass wall there. Before any plan, I wanted to do that. And we have succeeded in doing just that.
So when you go in now, you see the back side of the Zeughaus. Which is not unlike the other side. For the first time, the Zeughaus is total, complete. And that’s a negative complement of the design. The other part of the design is it’s between two Schinkels -- you know Schinkel?
MR. CAMPBELL: Schinkel was a great neo-classical architect of the early 19th century in Germany.
MR. PEI: I think he’s the greatest German architect, Mies van der Rohe notwithstanding. Between two Schinkels, and tourists want to go from ... (inaudible) on under de Linden, and then you always walk past this site to go to the museum. So I said now, even though we’re hidden, people will see it, because they go from Schinkel to Schinkel and pass our museum.
So I like the site for that reason. And it’s a challenge. It’s a very difficult site to design, but I want to open up the Zeughaus, which I did, and I want people to be able to walk in there and go from floor to floor in a different way. You go from floor one to floor two one way; floor two to floor three another way; three to four a third way. If you have a stair that goes up four stories, people won’t attempt it. You have to tease them, you have to seduce them.
MR. CAMPBELL: That happens in your partner, Harry Cobb’s Portland Museum in Maine, too.
MR. PEI: I think this is architecture of a certain kind, especially if you want to … if you do a building that connects floor one the fourth story with the same stair, I bet you you’d lose a lot of people.
MR. CAMPBELL: I'd like to move on. Let’s say that only people who are standing now get to talk, because we’re going to have to conclude at some point.
Q: Mr. Pei, I wanted to ask a question about China. Currently, a lot of discussion about Chinese development and the architectural design in China. Many magazines and newspapers are reporting these issues. Along with many positive comments, there are negative comments about many foreign architects running to China market and trying to build their masterpiece there, including very famous architects. Some comments say China is becoming an experimental field for architects. So what’s your opinion about that?
MR. CAMPBELL: Are there too many foreign architects invading the Chinese market?
MR. PEI: That, I think, is unavoidable in this case. I think it happened, actually, also in Japan. In the early days of Japan, there were many foreign architects going into it also, but the difference between Japan and China is Japan is on a much higher level of development, say 20 years ago, than China is today. Japan had architects like Kenzo Tange, China does not have it right now, and probably, if there is a Kenzo Tange, they are very, very young.
So, therefore, at the moment, they have great ambition. They want the world to know “here we are,” and therefore, in order to achieve that in a hurry, they have to get the best architects to come in to do that. And that is always a temptation for a developing country to do. But in this case, it’s not all good. The buildings are being done by the well-known architects of the West, and not their best buildings; they're second-rate buildings. And then, also, many of them, not all of them, ignore the context in which they build. Not only context in terms of history, but also in terms of place.
So, therefore, I think the lack of that is what made these buildings unsuccessful. I'm very sad about it, but on the other hand, I don’t see what alternative they have, because under Communism, the architectural education has been neglected, very much so, and, therefore, they didn’t have, ten years ago, a cadre of trained professionals that are able to take this challenge. At least, I don’t think so. So, therefore, they have to do it in a hurry, and the easiest way is by brands, and that’s what they got.
The best architects of the world are not necessarily doing the best buildings for you in the country if they're not serious about it. And I think most of them are not serious about it.
Q: In light of some of your negative feelings about the precast concrete and the surfaces here, I was wondering what you thought of the Christian Science Plaza work, which I hope I'm not showing some ignorance; I believe your firm was associated with that. I was wondering if you’d be willing to talk a little bit about your feelings now about the Christian Science Plaza.
MR. CAMPBELL: The Plaza rather than the buildings?
Q: Well, both.
MR. PEI: That project came to me right after the Kennedy Library project was offered, and the architect that finally took charge of it was Aldo Cossuto, one of my then-partners. He actually did most of the project, but I participated in the beginning of the project. But then, in 1966/’67, I had so many projects at that time, and so few people within the firm that can handle it, and therefore I think I did the right thing. I gave John Hancock to Harry Cobb and Christian Science to Aldo Cossuto.
Now, that Plaza I think is a very good solution, because they need parking, and the only way you can do underground parking is there, and therefore on top of parking, you can really do much, and the sheet of water, I don’t know whether it's still there or not, I think it’s probably still there…
MR. CAMPBELL: Oh, yes, very much beloved.
MR. PEI: I think it’s very successful. In fact, I think that’s a successful project. It has a Beaux Arts touch to it, which you can recognize right away, because Aldo was trained in France, I think. He’s a very good architect. He’s still practicing.
I'm very proud of people that came through my firm. He was one of them.
Q: Could you talk a bit about the work you did together with Zeckendorf? I visited developments up and down the East Coast, and it struck me that for the 1960s, the siting was prescient. I was curious about the programs -- how much came from the redevelopment authorities, how much from Zeckendorf, how much from your input? Could you talk about the play and developing the programs?
MR. PEI: In fact, it’s quite fresh in my mind, because Ed Bacon-- someone’s going to write a book on Ed Bacon -- and a writer came to see me …
MR. CAMPBELL: Ed Bacon was chair of the planning commission in Philadelphia.
MR. PEI: Only three days ago. So the subject came up and reminded me a little bit about Zeckendorf. I will say Zeckendorf was really a wonderful client. He could have made money much more easily than to get us involved in it. But he was the first one to see the possibilities of Title I 1949 Housing Act, I think it’s Title I. It was under Eisenhower that the federal government, cities and states supported slum clearance. Now, those terms are not used anymore, but in those days slum clearance was a very important objective.
Zeckendorf saw that as a tremendous opportunity. Why? Because the federal government and the state government come in to finance to buy the land. He doesn’t have to do it, he didn’t have to do it. So, therefore, he said, “For the first time, I don’t have to worry about finding bankers; Uncle Sam will foot the bill.” That’s why he went into urban renewal. We did quite a few projects together, and they're mostly -- when you talk about urban redevelopment, you're talking about housing. I think Government Center here in Boston is the exception to the rule. Or maybe Lincoln Center is also an exception to the rule. Most of them involve urban housing. And we did quite a few.
MR. CAMPBELL: Final question, or comment, or speech, or sermon, or whatever you’ve got ready for us.
Q: As you look back over your career, of the entire body of your architectural works, which would you say would be your top three greatest works, and you're not required to mention this building.
MR. CAMPBELL: What was the last phrase? I didn’t hear it.
Q: You're not required to mention this building.
MR. CAMPBELL: What are your three favorites among all your own buildings?
Q: Three greatest.
MR. PEI: How difficult. It’s just like asking a man who had many children. [Laughter] I have many. I've done 60, 70 projects in my life. I can tell you which one was most challenging. I can’t say it’s the most successful. I would say the Louvre is the most challenging, without doubt. Most difficult.
I think National Gallery is very important to me, because it came after this building, and I had a wonderful client. When you succeed in a project, behind it is a client, always, without exception. And I can think of that. I think every project that I like, there’s a client behind it that made it so.
Another one which I think I would like to say also, the one I did in Kyoto, which I would like you to see one day. I'm very fond of that project. We had a wonderful client.
So I would say it’s hard to pick and choose. My public housing, by the way, are very important. If you ask me, I would say my project in Kip’s Bay, which nobody knows, except you, maybe Ted Musho. I still look back at it with great affection. Do you like it, Ted? He’s still living there. That project was built for $10.15 a square foot, if you know what that means. The second slab was built for $12.60. I remember both.
These are triumphs that people don’t realize how to make something out of almost nothing. So I'm very proud of them.
MR. CAMPBELL: You’ve been a great audience, great set of questions and comments. [Applause]
MR. PEI: Thank you. Now we can go to Fenway Park.
MR. SHATTUCK: Just a final word of thanks. I'm sure you can imagine that as one of your many children, those of us here from the Kennedy Library are deeply grateful for having life breathed into this extraordinary space that we are now sitting in. We thank you for that.
I also wanted to offer a hopeful note, in fact, a very positive note, about the relationship between the Kennedy Library and Harvard University, because you’ve heard so much about that this afternoon. Harvard and the Kennedy Library are working very closely together, and there are quite formal relationships in some aspects of the Kennedy School of Government. I think we can also credit you, Mr. Pei, for having helped us survive the period of wilderness here on the Point, so that we can now connect, not only with Harvard University, of course, but with the University of Massachusetts here in Columbia Point, UMass-Boston, and the many, many other formal relationships that we have here in Boston and around the country.
Bob Campbell, thank you for guiding this truly extraordinary conversation through a beautiful Sunday afternoon, with the Red Sox competing with all of this. Thank you, and thank you, Mr. Pei, above all. [Applause]
MR. PEI: Thank you very much.