Thomas de Monchaux at n+1:
Pei’s stature among architects is hard to convey. However visually entertaining their work, the likely legacies of other American so-called starchitects shrink—some to triviality—beside the decades of modern design that Ieoh Ming Pei produced, from his earliest built work in 1948 to his last project sixty years later. By the time he co-designed the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha in 2008, he was among the last practicing students of a teacher from the Bauhaus. Walter Gropius taught, and later taught beside, Pei at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Gropius had arrived there in 1937. Pei, the scion of a Suzhou banking family who left Shanghai in 1935 for undergraduate study at Penn and MIT, arrived at Harvard in 1942. His classmates included Paul Rudolph and Philip Johnson.
Modernism in design was not conceived as a style but a refutation of the historicist stylistic revivals that had defined the previous four centuries of architecture in the developing West, forts and factories notwithstanding. Early modern buildings valued user experience over signifying appearance, which enabled them to apply new efficiencies in industrial engineering and standardized manufacturing.