LAST UPDATED – AUGUST 17, 2021
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.
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”.
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.