I. M. Pei’s Australian legacy

The world-renowned architect I. M. (Ieoh Ming) Pei celebrated his 100 birthday on 26 April. Pei, who was awarded the 1983 Pritzker Architecture Prize, “has given [the 20th century] some of its most beautiful interior spaces and exterior forms,” said the jury at the time.

I. M. Pei.

I. M. Pei.

Image: Ingbet Gruttner, courtesy Pei Cobb Freed and Partners

His New York-based practice, established in 1955 as I. M. Pei and Associates (later Pei and Partners and now Pei Cobb Freed and Partners) has built projects across the US and in more than 30 countries internationally, including two in Australia.

In honour of the occasion, ArchitectureAU takes a look back at Pei’s Australian legacy.

In the 1970s Pei and Partners collaborated with Australian practice Bates Smart and McCutcheon (BSM) to create Collins Place, a two-tower complex in Melbourne’s CBD, which in 1975 was the largest single building in Australia.

The complex comprises 15-storey buildings that contain an international hotel, offices, professional suites, shops and cinemas.

A vast, one-acre, six-storey-high sunken plaza, dubbed the “Great Space” sits between the two towers. It is covered in a glazed space frame, the first of its kind in Australia.

Interior of the "Great Space" at Collins Place by Pei and Partners and Bates Smart and McCutcheon.

Interior of the “Great Space” at Collins Place by Pei and Partners and Bates Smart and McCutcheon.

Image: Courtesy Bates Smart

The project was the result of a recommendation made by Vincent Ponte, a New York city planner who visited Australia in late 1969 and suggested that “ANZ, AMP Society and Mainline Corporation get together to use their total of three and a third acres [approximately 13,500 square metres] to develop a joint venture,” reported the Sydney Morning Herald on 20 June, 1971.

“Melbourne has a long-established tradition of pedestrian shopping arcades,” Ponte told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“This one, however, carries forward the local tradition to a scale of sophistication and grandeur comparable in its effect to the familiar shopping galleries of Italy with their high-class canopies or even to London’s former Crystal Palace.

“The whole project, then, becomes a small community within itself – office building which also have provision for people to shop, drink, talk, meet, relax and enjoy themselves.”

The design collaboration came about following a study tour undertaken by BSM partner Osborn McCutcheon in the late 1960s. “McCutcheon had been impressed with Pei’s Place Ville Marie in Montreal, Canada (1955-66), which had consolidated a number of sites and provided a mixed-use concept for the entire development,” wrote Philip Goad in Bates Smart: 150 Years of Australian Architecture.

“While the project was an aesthetic success in terms of its material quality and was contemporaneous with similar developments across Canada and the United States, in urbanist terms, Collins Place represented the dramatic consequences of the consolidation of numerous sites in the CBD where the final complex could change entirely the quality and scale of the existing streetscape.”

In 2012, Pei Cobb Freed and Partners and DWP Suters were appointed to design an $84 million office tower in Darwin by pearl magnates the Paspaley family. The building, the Charles Darwin Centre, completed in 2015, is described as “an iconic state-of-the-art building in the heart of the northern capital” and is the home of the Northern Territory government offices. The building received an Award for Commercial Architecture at the 2016 NT Architecture Awards.

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