Wednesday, March 31 at 9:00 p.m. on WPBT2
Now a giant international figure in his field, with such works as the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, the Javits Convention Center in New York City, the east wing of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, the Pyramid at the Louvre in Paris and the Bank of Hong Kong on his résumé, I.M. Pei left China as a young student in the 1930s, and was taught abstract modern architecture at Harvard – stylistically heavy, impersonal and alienating. It was the antithesis of his “impossible dream” to bring nature to his work, to join modernity and tradition into a harmonious whole – evocative of growing up near his great uncle’s gardens in Suzhou.
Many decades and many worlds later, and now in his early 90s, Pei was invited to design a modern museum to house the antiquities of Suzhou. Our film follows this personal and architectural journey from west to east, an expansive full-circle, a literal coming home – a realization of Pei’s lifelong dream. But also, his biggest challenge and, seven and a half years in the making, a work that he ultimately defines as “my biography.”
Because we had the unique access and opportunity to film throughout these seven and a half years, there is a “you-are-there” sensibility in this documentary, with Pei’s own immediate perspective always in the forefront. While his is the central unifying voice, we also hear from local residents, design specialists, Suzhou officials, and from a stellar array of architects, designers and scholars, commenting on Pei’s life and work.
Thematically, the film remains true to an exploration of one of the defining conflicts of our age – the lure of the modern versus the pull of history and tradition. We see the tension in Pei, as a person and as an architect, trying to place a modern building in the most ancient neighborhood of a 2,500 year-old city, a city that was the cultural capital of China during the country’s greatest artistic richness – a city to which he returns after 70 years in the United States, feeling that modernity has changed him, feeling that “I am a foreigner.”
Visit the website at www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters.
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