Suzhou Museum – The Genius Of I.M.Pei

LAST UPDATED – AUGUST 17, 2021

Front View and Circular doorway - Suzhou Museum
Another BelieverCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Designing a modern structure that celebrates traditional local architecture without compromising form and functionality is tough ask. When I.M.Pei was approached by the mayor of Suzhou in 2001 to design a new museum, his brief was just that.

The fact that the earmarked site was in the heritage area of Suzhou and backed against the 16th century ‘Humble Administrators Garden’ – one of an ensemble of UNESCO heritage gardens – was an additional handicap.

From the look of the remarkable building in front of us, Pei managed to pull off the feat with aplomb.

But Pei was no stranger to Suzhou. This was the city of his ancestors and although he was not born here, he spent many holidays in his ancestral home in the ‘Lion Grove Garden’, yet another heritage garden.

The Museum that opened in 2006 was his interpretation of the distinctive elements of the vernacular Suzhou aesthetic.

Wood & glass ceiling in the passage - Suzhou Museum
Wood & glass ceiling in the passage
Pavilion mimicking a traditional viewing pavilion in the adjacent gardens.
Pavilion mimicking a traditional viewing pavilions in the adjacent gardens.

The circular doorway, the grey color palette, the walled garden, the water bodies, the viewing pavilions, the zigzag bridge, the beautiful framed vistas from every angle – all pay homage to the city and the gardens that he played in as a child.

Pei hoped this would be “…..a case study for contemporary design in historic environs for the new generation of Chinese planners, government officials, and designers”.

Wood & glass skylight - Suzhou Museum
Wood & glass skylight

This was the primary reason we chose to visit Suzhou (much like we dashed across to Bilbao on a day-trip from Barcelona, just to see the Guggenheim Museum!)

The exhibits inside are beautiful and worth seeing, but this remarkable little building is an attraction in its own right. If you are at all interested in architecture do try and include the Suzhou Museum in your Shanghai itinerary.

Until next time…happy travels, no matter where life takes you.  

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A visit to Suzhuo Museum: I M Pei's masterful fusion of contemporary design with his hometown's vernacular aesthetic. A must do when in Suzhou, China.
A visit to Suzhuo Museum: I M Pei's masterful fusion of contemporary design with his hometown's vernacular aesthetic. A must do when in Suzhou, China.

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on instagram.com/theurgetowander

19 thoughts on “Suzhou Museum – The Genius Of I.M.Pei

  1. I. M. Pei is hands down my favourite architect – I just love the way he designs with such elegant simplicity; I used to live just up the road from his Bank of China Tower (in Hong Kong) and every day I’d sit and gaze at it from my bedroom window. It single-handedly redefined the skyline and to this day it’s the most unique skyscraper we have. His buildings really do have a sense of timelessness.

    I can’t imagine how personal the Suzhou Museum was for Pei; for any architect this would certainly be a labour of love – the mayor certainly made the right choice! Thank you for sharing Madhu, I really enjoyed this entry!

  2. I love the zigzag bridge and the reading room! I had the opportunity to visit the last structure (I think!) he designed: the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar. It is also surrounded by water and is really beaitiful.

    1. Have read about it Meenakshi. Hope to see it someday! He was apparently inspired by the Ibn Tulun Mosque in Cairo that I featured in my earlier post on the city. Appreciate your feedback!

  3. Beautiful building! I.M Pei is such an amazing architect! One of the world’s best today. Am glad to know he built a building at one of his favourite’s city

  4. I do like his work, but I can’t believe you made a day trip to Bilbao all the way from Barcelona! Bilbao’s still on my list 🙂

    1. Jo, I just found this comment from a year ago! Apologies for the late, late response 😉 Yes we did do a mad dash to Bilbao from Barcelona thinking we would never return to Spain again! But we are going back this August and spending four whole days there! 🙂

      1. To Barca? Lovely city! I have yet to see Bilbao. 🙂 No worries about the comment. Heaven only knows what’s lurking in my spam 🙂

        1. I knew I should go back to the original article because I couldn’t remember the full comment. That’s the snag with the ‘dropdown’ but it’s quick response and I like that. Now I’m jealous again, Madhu 🙂

  5. thanks for this post about the Suzhou Museum. I love the museum and go their often. I agree, IM Pei is an amazing architect. what i love so much about Suzhou is the commitment from the city government to keep new buildings in the old town in keeping with the old style architecture. wish the rest of china was like tha! the new railway station is also an example of old architectural styles brought into modern building design.
    thank you! I live in Suzhou so I am delighted to see this post.
    Debbie

    1. Debbie, apologies for the belated response. I neglect to check back on older posts often enough. We were pretty impressed with Suzhou. Glad to know it isn’t being disneyfied like other old towns in China. Thank you for stopping by to share your thoughts. Have a great day! 🙂

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