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American Masters: I.M. Pei: Building China Modern

Airs Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

Suzhou Museum at night. This film follows noted architect I.M. Pei as he desi...

Credit: Kerun Ip

Above: Suzhou Museum at night. This film follows noted architect I.M. Pei as he designs a modern museum to house the antiquities of Suzhou in his native China.

I.M. Pei has been called the most important living modern architect, defining the landscapes of some of the world’s greatest cities. A monumental figure in his field and a laureate of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, Pei is the senior statesman of modernism and last surviving link to such great early architects as Corbusier, Gropius, and Mies van der Rohe.

Entering into the twilight of his career and well into his eighties, Pei returns to his ancestral home of Suzhou, China to work on his most personal project to date. He is commissioned to build a modern museum in the city’s oldest neighborhood which is populated by classical structures from the Ming and Qing dynasties.

For the architect who placed the pyramid at the Louvre, the test to integrate the new with the old is familiar but still difficult. The enormous task is to help advance China architecturally without compromising its heritage. In the end, what began as his greatest challenge and a labor of sentiment, says Pei, ultimately becomes “my biography.”

This film follows his seven-and-a-half-year personal and architectural journey from west to east, a literal coming home — a realization of Pei’s lifelong dream.

“I.M. Pei is an architectural poet – a living legend,” says Susan Lacy, series creator and executive producer of "American Masters," a seven-time winner of the Emmy Award for Outstanding Primetime Non-Fiction Series. “He’s among the league of rare American masters whose artistic sensibilities have both provoked public debate and transformed our notions of what is possible, of how tradition can be honored in the 21st century.”

Preview: American Masters: I.M. Pei: Building China Modern

Noted architect I. M. Pei returns to China in order to design a modern museum to house the antiquities of Suzhou, where he grew up.

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