Saturday, November 27, 2010

I.M. Pei in Qatar

I.M. Pei is not one of my favorite architects, and I have always disliked his East Wing of the National Gallery in Washington. But I have to say that this more recent project, the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, is very impressive. The overall shape of the structure evokes both the geometry of modernism and the traditional form of an Arab fort or palace, and the nearly windowless facade, necessary to protect the fragile objects from the intense sun, is enlivened by the play of shadows across the complex shape. This melding of modern geometry, traditional Arab design, and the clever manipulation of light continues through the whole building.

I especially like this fountain, which is enough like a medieval Arab fountain to evoke the sensibilities of a traditionalist (like me), and yet not merely a copy, but something recognizably modern in form and texture.

For any regular readers who ever wondered what it is that I expect contemporary architects to do, I answer, something like this museum. I know that most contemporary architects are not going to be satisfied with neotraditional pastiches of Roman or Gothic forms, and, honestly, neither would I. But I do want architects to modify their love of pure geometry in the directions of local tradition and creating spaces that people of a less severe aesthetic (most of us) can relate to and find beautiful.

More on this museum here, here, and here.

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