The Greats: Two Asian architects who changed the world
What elevates an architect to the level of eternal greatness? It's a combination of being part visionary, part engineer and part psychoanalyst. An iconic architect is able to insert a dose of reality to his clients' dreams, and achieve an ideal structure that stands out as a work of art and that can withstand the test of time.
There are only a scant handful of Asian architects who have secured international prominence through their commercial work, but only two who possess all of the above, as well as contributed to the transformation of history’s course.
I. M. Pei (1917 - present)
The Guangzhou-born American architect Ieoh Ming (I. M.) Pei is a prolific architect and one of the pioneers of modern architecture. He was a major proponent of the 1930s Bauhaus movement (in fact, he was close life-long friends with its two founding fathers, Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer).
Pei is best known as a thorough modernist who has a his flair for combining classic architectural themes with progressive design based on recurring geometric motifs. Pei is the creator and executor of many landmark buildings throughout the world, but he is arguably most famous for the Louvre ‘Pyramid’, set in La Grande Louvre Museum of Paris, France.
Left: I. M. Pei.
Right: Marvelous in our eyes: The stunning addition of a glass and steel pyramid at the courtyard of Le Grande Louvre Museum, Paris, a creation by I M Pei which was completed in 1989.
During the mid-1980s, Pei’s team was commissioned to renovate the interior and expand the entrance of the Le Grand Louvre, the 12th century palace-turned-museum. Pei designed and installed a glass and steel pyramid to serve as an entrance and anteroom skylight for visitors. At first, the Pyramid was met with an uproar of disapproval by Parisians, but gradually criticism softened and as of year 2002, attendance of visitors had doubled since its completion.
And, as most of us know, the Pyramid has since played an integral part in Dan Brown’s blockbuster novel-turned-movie, The Da Vinci Code. Pei is a recipient of a multitude of international architectural awards, including the Pritzker Prize (considered as the Nobel Prize of architecture). Buildings created by Pei are now standard textbook references in architecture school.
Minoru Yamasaki (1912 - 1986)
US-born Minoru Yamasaki was a Japanese-American architect and one of the most prominent Western-based architects of the 20th century. In fact, alongside business partner and fellow architect Edward Durell Stone, both gained recognition as the ‘two masters’ of Romanticised Modernism. This movement was born on the concept of challenging theories on how ‘modern’ is perceived.
The late Yamasaki was best known for designing the World Trade Center building, the iconic twin towers that was located in the heart of the financial district in downtown Manhattan, New York. The buildings featured 13.4 million square feet of office space and were also designed with windows that were narrower than usual, so as to make the occupants feel secure (it was also a reflection of Yamasaki's own fear of heights).
The World Trade Center was also considered as America’s most outstanding utilisation of the architectural principles of Le Corbusier (Swiss-French architect, urban planner, writer, furniture designer and painter, who has been regarded as one of the pioneers or modern architecture). The World Trade Center was also a monument of the stark, gothic modernist approach that Yamasaki so loved. In year 2001, The World Trade Center was destroyed in a terrorist attack. The culmination of events that led after the fall of the twin towers changed the course of American and international history.
Yamasaki died in year 1986. During his lifetime, he was elected as a Fellow in the American Institute of Architects in year 1960 and won the American Institute of Architects' First Honour Award three times.
Left: Minoru Yamasaki.
Right: The two towers of the World Trade Center was completed in 1971 and subsequently destroyed in a terrorist attack in year 2001.