贝聿铭(IM Pei)在波士顿建造肯尼迪图书馆（John F Kennedy Library & Museum，于1979年开放）是段痛苦的经历，非但当地民众反对，成本也遭到了削减。在同一城市的约翰汉考克大楼（John Hancock Tower，1976年）代表着硬纸板和玻璃镶嵌工艺陷入困境的时期，当时窗玻璃被木板挡了起来，以防掉落砸到路人。最著名的是，卢浮宫金字塔（Louvre pyramids，1988年）招致保守的巴黎人的痛斥，他们疾呼，美国人要破坏巴黎神圣的标志性建筑。
(Museum of Islamic
此刻，贝聿铭坐在我对面喝着英式奶茶，风度翩翩，衣着考究。他极力想让人满意，绝非傲慢自大的“古板建筑师”的形象。我们在伦敦的文华东方酒店(Mandarin Oriental Hotel)见面简直是理所当然的，这家酒店融合了浓郁的皇家古典风格和奢华的东方变异色彩。贝聿铭身着剪裁合体的灰色西装，袖子下端露出带褶皱的法式衬衫袖口。他脸上没什么皱纹，但有老人斑，架着一副独具一格的圆框眼镜，这一小处模仿勒·柯布西耶(Le Corbusier)的打扮让他的脸显得严肃。
贝聿铭当年在哈佛就读，师从沃尔特·格罗皮乌斯(Walter Gropius)。格罗皮乌斯是包豪斯(Bauhaus)流派的创始人，或许也是20世纪影响最大的教师。曾是格罗皮乌斯合伙人、建造了惠特尼博物馆 (Whitney Museum)和纽约联合国大楼(UN Building)的匈牙利建筑师马赛尔·布鲁尔(Marcel Breuer)，则是贝聿铭的好友。这两位现在看来几乎是神话般的人物，贝聿铭从他们身上学到了什么呢？
从1948年到1955年期间，贝聿铭投效作风张扬、嗜抽雪茄的纽约开发商威廉·杰肯多夫(William Zeckendorf)，设计出了许多令人难忘的作品。贝聿铭曾说过：“伟大的艺术家需要伟大的客户。”在职业生涯后期，他几乎一手缔造了达拉斯市区的当前风貌，在那里设计了规模宏大的市政厅（1978年）等建筑。当我提起我最近去过那里时，他问我：“亨利·摩尔的雕像还在那儿吗？你知道，我帮助促成了这件事——我去了Much Hadham（位于英国赫特福德郡的一个村庄，是摩尔当年的居住地，如今设有亨利·摩尔基金会）。”
贝聿铭设计的一组摩天大楼和造型怪异的巴洛克式莫顿梅尔森交响乐中心(Morton H Meyerson)等建筑，使得雷姆·库哈斯(Rem Koolhaas)把达拉斯比作“平庸的震源地”。对此，贝聿铭的自我辩护显出一贯的冷淡：“在达拉斯，我是为人设计，而不是为地方。他们很多人来自纽约。它不像休斯顿这样的石油城市，它更像东海岸。达拉斯其实与纽约没什么不同。”
卢浮宫金字塔在采访中，贝聿铭只有两次显得被难住了。第一次是我问他有关战时服役的事情，当时他加入了国防研究委员会(National Defence Research Committee)，对此他说，“学习的是轰炸和摧毁，而非建设”。第二次是我把话题引回肯尼迪图书馆的时候。“建这座图书馆十分艰难，”他说道。“杰姬和博比·肯尼迪向我们提了出来（那是在1963年约翰·肯尼迪遇刺的一年后），他是个英雄。”据报道，杰姬·肯尼迪曾说，选择贝聿铭，“其实是从感情上作出的决定。他（贝聿铭）非常有前途，就像杰克一样。他们同年出生。我想，与他共同做出一个壮举，会很有意思。”然而，这个项目非但不是一次壮举，而且始终难以顺利推进，卷入了当地的政治活动之中，并且屡经修改。不过，与困扰卢浮宫金字塔项目的政治活动相比，这算不了什么。
“要让法国人接受金字塔，我们遇到了许多困难。他们以为我们打算引进一座埃及金字塔。后来我指出，他们的方尖碑也来自埃及，而且拐角处就有金字塔广场 (Place des Pyramides)。然后他们就接受了。不过，卢浮宫金字塔只露出了尖端。你不能在地面上建任何东西，因为它是这样一个历史景点，它是一座巨大的建筑，由很多馆组成。除了在地下建造之外，别无选择。然而，如果你要在地下建，就必须有东西值得看。金字塔和喷泉在说，‘来吧，我们有很多东西要向你展示。'”
法国建筑公司Grands Travaux的艾米利·比亚斯尼(Emile Biasini)认为，贝聿铭是负责这项工作的理想人选，作为一个中国人，“他了解古代文明”，而作为一个美国人，“他能够鉴赏现代”。我问贝聿铭：在美国度过了75年后，他还觉得自己是个中国人吗？“我从来不忘中国，”他立刻回答，“我的家族在那里居住了600年。但我的建筑不管从哪方面来说，都没有有意识地中国化。我是个西方建筑师。”
贝聿铭最优秀的建筑都带着沉迷于几何构造的特征，它们属于当代最震撼人心的建筑之列。他依然工作不辍：新项目包括在日本Miho建一所学校和一座神庙。但从最坏的方面来说，他的建筑体现了现代主义妄自尊大的一切缺点。从香港中银大厦(Bank of China Tower)，到华盛顿特区的美国国家美术馆(National Gallery of Art)，他在上世纪七、八十年代的作品跨立在地表上——这两个十年是现代主义处于最低谷的时期。
本文原载《The Financial Times》，February 26 2010，作者Edwin Heathcote，英文原文如下。
Im Pei-I'M a Western Architect
The Financial Times, February 26 2010
At 92, IM Pei is revered as one of the last surviving modernists. As the recipient of Britain’s most prestigious architectural honour, the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Gold Medal, awarded earlier this month, Pei was an uncontroversial and popular choice. The geometry and spatial quality of his recent work seem to satisfy even the most cynical of critics, including those who only recently suspected him of gross commercialism. But if Pei’s life now seems a long, effortless succession of acclaimed international masterpieces, it didn’t always look that way.
The building of the John F Kennedy Library & Museum in Boston (dedicated in 1979) turned into a bitter tangle of local opposition and cost-cutting. The John Hancock Tower (1976), in the same city, stood for a period as a troubled mosaic of chipboard and glass as window panes were boarded up to stop them falling on passers-by. Most famously, the Louvre pyramids (1988) drew a cry of anguish from a conservative Paris as an American tampered with the city’s sacred landmark.
All that is forgotten now. The Louvre pyramid has become a symbol of contemporary Paris, just as the Pompidou Centre has. Pei’s recent buildings have seen his reputation revived and enhanced, most notably last year with the serene Museum of Islamic Art in Doha and a much admired melding of eastern and western forms at the museum in Suzhou, in Pei’s native China. It can be a little hard to determine whether Pei is very adept at changing to suit the times or whether fashion changes to catch up with him.
Certainly, the charming, diminutively dapper figure who sits across from me drinking tea (English-style, with milk) is eager to please and far from the image of the arrogant “starchitect”. It is curiously appropriate that we should meet in London’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel with its blend of high imperial classicism and luxury eastern inflections. Pei is clad in a finely tailored grey suit, from the sleeves of which poke crisp French cuffs; his face, hardly lined but spotted by age, is made owlish by a pair of his characteristic round-framed glasses – a fashion tic borrowed from Le Corbusier.
Taught at Harvard by Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus school and perhaps the most influential teacher of the 20th century, Pei was also close friends with Gropius’s one-time partner, the Hungarian Marcel Breuer, architect of the Whitney Museum and the UN Building in New York. What did Pei learn from these now almost mythical figures?
“A great deal,” he replies. “Gropius was a very strict disciplinarian but a wonderful teacher, while Breuer and I became very close friends. We visited Europe together several times, and we sailed together – sailing’s a wonderful way to get to know each other,” Pei says, almost misty-eyed.
When I ask him about arriving in America, he returns to boats. “I arrived in the USA in 1935, to San Francisco. I got the boat from China and I didn’t even speak English. I could read a little, perhaps write a little but that was all. It was a 17-day journey and I learnt to speak English from the stewards.”
After three-quarters of a century, Pei’s English is still haunted by an accent and the occasional grammatical slip, but his speech and his manner are as urbane as his suit. In fact, for most of his career, the architect who declined to teach or theorise was out of fashion. His apparently seamless blend of the commercial and the cultural made other architects suspicious. How did he manage so successfully to combine the business and the art of architecture? “I think the artistic side of architecture was natural to me,” he says, displaying not a trace of false modesty. “My mother was an artist and a poet. The commercial side came afterwards [his father was a banker]. After school I worked for a real estate developer and I learnt the commercial business of architecture there. Today I can be comfortable in either kind of work.”
From 1948 to 1955, Pei worked for the flamboyant, cigar-chewing New York developer William Zeckendorf, for whom he produced a number of memorable designs. Pei has said “great artists need great clients”. Later in his career he virtually defined downtown Dallas with such buildings as the massive City Hall (1978). When I mentioned that I had visited it recently, he asked me: “Are the Henry Moores still there? I helped get that commission you know – I went to Much Hadham [the Hertfordshire village where Moore lived, now home to the Henry Moore Foundation].”
A clutch of huge towers and the weirdly Baroque Morton H Meyerson Symphony Center (1989) are among the structures designed by Pei that caused Rem Koolhaas to refer to Dallas as the “epicentre of the generic”. Pei’s defence is typically cool: “In Dallas I was designing for the people, not the place. Many of them had come from New York. It’s not like Houston, an oil city, it’s more like the East Coast. Dallas is really no different from New York.”
Pei looks troubled only twice during the interview. The first time when I ask him about his war service, which he spent in the National Defence Research Committee (“learning to bomb and destroy rather than build,” he says); the second when I lure him back to the Kennedy Library saga. “The library was very difficult,” he says. “We were approached by Jackie and Bobby Kennedy [a year after JFK’s assassination in 1963] and he was a hero.” Jackie Kennedy was reported as saying that choosing Pei had been “really an emotional decision. He [Pei] was so full of promise, like Jack; they were born in the same year. I decided it would be fun to take a great leap with him.” But rather than a great leap the project limped along, mired in local politics and incessant changes in the brief. But even that was nothing compared to the politics surrounding the Louvre.
The original plans for Boston’s Kennedy Library had featured a glass pyramid; to what extent, I wondered, was the Louvre pyramid a transplanting of that idea?
“We had a lot of difficulty in getting the French to accept the pyramid. They thought we were trying to import a piece of Egypt, until I pointed out that their obelisk was also from Egypt and the Place des Pyramides is around the corner. Then they accepted it. The pyramid at the Louvre, though, is just the tip. You can’t build anything above ground because it is such a historic site but it was a huge building, lots of galleries, there was no alternative to building underground. But then, if you do so much underground there has to be something there to see. The pyramid and the fountains say, ‘Come, we’ve got a lot to show you.’”
Emile Biasini, the official in charge of the French “Grands Travaux”, felt Pei was perfect for the job because as a Chinese “he had an understanding of ancient civilisation” and as an American “he had a taste for the modern”. I ask Pei about this: does he still, after 75 years in America, feel at all Chinese? “I’ve never left China,” he comes back, in a flash. “My family’s been there for 600 years. But my architecture is not consciously Chinese in any sense. I’m a western architect.”
For a self-styled “western architect”, and one closely associated with the corporate end, Pei’s most elegant buildings have arguably been his two post-retirement, non-western projects. The museum at Suzhou evokes the timber framing and calm serenity of Buddhist temples while the dense stone mass of Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art sits somewhere between Ancient Egypt, Byzantium and modernist Baghdad. Is the latter an attempt to address a non-western culture, to forge a new language? “I suppose you could call [Doha] something in the middle, a ‘middle-Eastern’ building,” Pei laughs – a boyish giggle that makes him appear oddly ageless.
Pei’s best buildings, characterised by an obsession with geometry, are among the most striking of the contemporary era. And he is still working: new projects include a school and shrine in Miho, Japan. But at their worst his structures embody all the faults of modernism’s megalomania. From the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, his work of the 1970s and 1980s straddles the globe; these two decades were modernism’s lowest ebb.
Pei is a survivor from a generation once discredited for despoiling the world’s cities, yet he is now lauded for a new wave of work that suddenly seems fashionable once more. Extraordinarily for an architect born before the Russian revolution, his buildings really do seem to be getting better.