Thursday, April 27, 2017
There is a Latin expression, Finis origine pendet, which translates roughly to, “The end depends on the beginning.” It would seem especially appropriate for I. M. Pei.
At a recent event honoring Pei at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, which he attended from 1942 to 1946, his long-time professional partner Harry Cobb told a resonant story. It seems that when Pei was finishing his degree, he proposed a thesis topic to Walter Gropius, the legendary founder of the Bauhaus, who had taken over the Harvard program in 1937. The thesis was for a museum in a garden to be located in Shanghai, drawing on Pei’s knowledge of traditional Chinese landscape design.
According to Cobb, Gropius would have none of it, saying that tradition had no place at the GSD, which was about “changing the world” by discarding history and starting anew. Pei persisted, and Gropius relented—but he told Pei that he would have to “prove” to him the merit of his case.
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