By Ryan Pierce
Prominent architect I.M. Pei passed away recently at the age of 102, after a lengthy successful career that spanned the globe. Before Pei would become famous for designs such as the Louvre Pyramid or Bank of China Tower, he did some of his earliest design work right here in Southwest DC.
Pei began his career as a staff architect for the firm Webb & Knapp, hired as one of the lead firms for the redevelopment of Southwest in the 1960s. Pei and his associates provided an initial design for the overall urban renewal plan for the area and designed several buildings, including those around L’Enfant Plaza and Promenade and the Town Center Plaza complex.
While the Town Center shopping mall is no longer standing, the accompanying apartment buildings at Town Center East and Town Center West (the latter now part of Modern on M) still stand as landmarks in our neighborhood and show early glimpses of Pei’s style that would be refined into the likes of the stunning National Gallery of Art East Wing just to our north. Pei’s important contributions helped to shape Southwest as we know it today, along with the other architects of urban renewal. Pei and his contemporaries were attempting to create a new vision for urban living that would provide density and open space for all its residents, following Modernist principles. For more information on Pei, Chloethiel Woodard Smith, Charles Goodman and others involved in the design and redevelopment of Southwest during the “Urban Renewal” period, a good starting point is the Historic American Building Survey’s report, “Southwest Washington, Urban Renewal Area,” available online at www.swdc.org/swna/task-forces/history-task-force/history-studies/