I.M. Pei, the famed architect who designed the Louvre’s glass pyramid, the John F. Kennedy Library, and the University’s Wilson Commons, died on Thursday. He was 102.
Pei was known for his use of simple shapes. The trapezoidal Wilson Commons was opened in 1976.
The walls of windows surrounding Hirst Lounge are consistent with Pei’s architectural philosophy.
“There’s nothing more static and oppressive than a large, monumental windowless space,” Pei said that same year.
UR art history professor Peter Christensen said in a video released by UR that the windows had a Rochester-specific function as well.
“Pei understood that winters in Rochester are long, ” Christensen said. “And he wanted to cultivate a place where you could feel like you’re outdoors and feel nourished by the kind of plaza setting that you would experience, say, in a downtown in the Summer.”
At Wilson Commons’ dedication in 1976, Pei spoke of some inspiration stemming from a discussion with Xerox Corporation founder, UR alum, and Wilson Commons namesake Joseph C. Wilson. (He died in 1971.)
“[Wilson] mentioned how much he was concerned about improving the quality of student life,” Pei said. “And he dreamt of a space much like the center court of [the Isabella Stewart] Gardner Museum in Boston.” The indoor courtyard of that museum is roofed with a triangular prism-shaped skylight.
“That struck a very sympathetic chord in me and what you see today reflects that one meeting and that one idea from Mr. Wilson himself,” Pei added.
The building is home to the Pit, Rocky’s Sub Shop and Lounge, a Starbucks, and the deans’ offices. According to UR’s press release, Pei was happy to see it achieving its intended purpose: “the center of University life.”