Museum of Islamic Art
The Museum of Islamic Art in Doha is Pei's last major museum project and in my opinion the greatest. If the Louvre and the East Wing were groundbreaking works that pushed the vocabulary of modern architecture, the MIA goes above and beyond by finding a harmonious balance between modern and tradition, between the minimal and the decorative.
Eight years after its opening, I visited the building during the stifling heat of the Qatari summer. When greeted by the esplanade of palm trees that gradually slope up to the front door, one is immediately touched by a sense of calm and respite. Inspired by the ninth century Ahmad ibn Tulun Mosque in Cairo, Pei intended the building be an object, treated as a piece of sculpture. Nonetheless, the object is comfortably contextual by virtue of its form, material, and narrative. The exterior geometric form, cladded in French limestone, is mesmerizing to observe as the desert sun and night lights activate a constant shadow play. The interior geometry is then conceived, executed, and maintained in such purity, rigor, and precision that makes wandering through the space a total pleasure itself. Appearing to be symmetrical in plan, one can see the astonishingly perfect alignments of center lines of stairs, doorways, chandeliers, all the way down to the coffered ceilings and even glass railing open joints. However, the symmetry is effortlessly broken up by the triangulated walls that support the roof as they engage the columns at different heights. The decorative flooring, chandelier details, elevator lighting, and arches articulate a modern interpretation of the Islam motif. It is probably fair to say that in a masterpiece of architecture like the MIA, one can learn more about a culture by being immersed in the spatial experience than by going through exhibits behind glass walls. In that sense, Pei has bridged the east and the west and achieved beyond his design brief, beyond an architect's conventional responsibilities.