06 February 2009

Drawing is Thinking: Concept Sketches by I.M.Pei


These sketches are an unfurling of sequentially produced thoughts on paper for the Musée d’Art Moderne in Luxembourg (MUDAM), beginning in 1991 through 2000.

Over the course of a decade I worked closely with Pei on several designed museum projects and kept an active archive of each sketch he made from the first day of design meetings through site visits on the construction site. The MUDAM project was the longest spanning project in Pei’s practice – outdoing the JFK Library project which took 14 years to complete – on account of the inchoate government ministries involved.

I.M. Pei's almost ethical imperative to never show an incomplete project - an unrealized design or a work in progress, as he felt architecture must be judged as a physical experience - has largely kept all of his unbuilt designs, not to mention conceptual
sketches, unpublished.

These sketches, then, offer a rare opportunity to see his mind at work. They are a record less of the source of the completed design - the struggle with the arrow-head shape of the historical fortress on which the museum was built - but of the action of the architect's hand, exploring and resisting the imposed geometry of the site and his own design principles.

It offers a fresh look at the trials and errors, small puzzlings and geometric victories of the architect’s musings, which would later become the backbone of the completed building, opened to the public 16 years later, in 2007. Visit an earlier blog entry on the MUDAM project on this site, and visit the full collection of drawing on arcspace at http://www.arcspace.com/architects/freed/pei_sketches/pei_sketches.html.

To rebuke those that see an architect's "napkin sketches" as mere curiosities, look again.
Here we can see an experienced mind flirting with the lines and geometries that have marked much of his built work, done with the same wonderment and pleasure as that of a child: the personal markings of an inquiring mind.