I.M. Pei’s Wilson Commons Building: A Contemporary Mastery of Method

We’ve been to Wilson Commons three times before.

Wilson Commons 1

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at-wilson-commons

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In From Thurgood Marshall School of Law to Rochester Prep High School, Shadi and I discussed international education.

In Print is not dead yet at the University of Rochester, we saw first year students grappling with a newspaper.

nikki-with-flags-1

Celebrating 1396 and the University of Rochester’s Persian Club

In Celebrating 1396 and the University of Rochester’s Persian Club, we learned about the Persian Club from Nikki Rezania.

Today, George offers multiple perspectives on I.M. Pei’s masterpiece.

I.M. Pei’s Wilson Commons Building: A Contemporary Mastery of Method

Text and Photography by George Cassidy Payne

Designed by I.M.Pei in 1976, just after his John Hancock Tower, in Boston, and before his John F. Kennedy Library, also in Boston, the Wilson Common’s building is the campus’ Student Union for the University of Rochester.

As a central location for campus life, Wilson Commons provides space for gatherings, performances, lectures, exhibits, leisure, play, and eating throughout its five floors. Among its many stunning features, the six-story glass atrium, which is adorned with flags representative of that year’s student body country of origin, is one of the most impressive public spaces in Rochester. Less dramatic in scale, it still possess all of the hallmark characteristics of his most famous work the Louvre.

Transparent: the building’s windows exemplify the virtues of inquisitiveness and honesty. Rational: the building’s calculated layout is constructed of the most durable materials. International: the building invites all to gather as a common body of learners. Democratic: the building only functions when everyone does their part to make it work. Open and free: the building is, in the form of metal, brick, and glass, a glorious manifestation of the liberal arts.

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The essence of architecture is form and space, and light is the essential element to the key to architectural design, probably more important than anything. Technology and materials are secondary. I. M. Pei
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As one critic writes: “Pei has been aptly described as combining a classical sense of form with a contemporary mastery of method.”

 

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A city, far from being a cluster of buildings, is actually a sequence of spaces enclosed and defined by buildings. I. M. Pei
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“Pei refers to his own “analytical approach” when explaining the lack of a “Pei School”. “For me,” he said, “the important distinction is between a stylistic approach to the design; and an analytical approach giving the process of due consideration to time, place, and purpose … My analytical approach requires a full understanding of the three essential elements … to arrive at an ideal balance among them.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I._M._Pei)

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Pei’s first major recognition came with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado (designed in 1961, and completed in 1967). His new stature led to his selection as chief architect for the John F. Kennedy Library in Massachusetts. He went on to design Dallas City Hall and the East Building of the National Gallery of Art. He returned to China for the first time in 1975 to design a hotel at Fragrant Hills, and designed Bank of China Tower, Hong Kong, a skyscraper in Hong Kong for the Bank of China fifteen years later. In the early 1980s, Pei was the focus of controversy when he designed a glass-and-steel pyramid for the Musée du Louvre in Paris. He later returned to the world of the arts by designing the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, the Miho Museum in Japan, the Suzhou Museum in Suzhou, and the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar.

Pei has won a wide variety of prizes and awards in the field of architecture, including the AIA Gold Medal in 1979, the first Praemium Imperiale for Architecture in 1989, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in 2003. In 1983, he won the Pritzker Prize, sometimes called the Nobel Prize of architecture. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I._M._Pei)

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I liked the America of Bing Crosby, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton – it was all a dream, of course, but a very alluring dream for a young man from Canton. I. M. Pei
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I arrived in the U.S.A. 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. I. M. Pei
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Architecture must not do violence to space or its neighbors. I. M. Pei
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To me, form doesn’t always follow function. Form has a life of its own, and at times, it may be the motivating force in design. When you’re dealing with form as a sculptor, you feel that you are quite free in attempting to mould and shape things you want to do, but in architecture, it’s much more difficult because it has to have a function. I. M. Pei
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Modern architecture needed to be part of an evolutionary, not a revolutionary, process. I. M. Pei
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It is good to learn from the ancients. I’m a bit of an ancient myself. They had a lot of time to think about architecture and landscape. I. M. Pei
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 It is good to learn from the ancients. I’m a bit of an ancient myself. They had a lot of time to think about architecture and landscape. I. M. Pei

DSCF0688
To me, form doesn’t always follow function. Form has a life of its own, and at times, it may be the motivating force in design. When you’re dealing with form as a sculptor, you feel that you are quite free in attempting to mould and shape things you want to do, but in architecture, it’s much more difficult because it has to have a function. I. M. Pei
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Modern architecture needed to be part of an evolutionary, not a revolutionary, process. I. M. Pei

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