Something in Common
From movies to TV shows to concerts, the more we get to know celebrities the more we feel like we know them on a personal level. This can seem even more real, given all the true-life biography shows on TV these days. You can watch documentaries about all of your favorite actors or musicians and learn (what seems like) everything about them and you find out they’re just like you (sort of) … because you both share a love for playing Monopoly or running on the beach. You know what I mean.
And we’re saddened when we learn of their passing. We speak of them fondly, remembering how they made us laugh in our favorite movies. Like when Robin Williams died. The way he made us all laugh—kids and adults—he shared his humor with every audience. When he was gone many of us felt like we’d lost a friend.
But in our little world of architectural glass and glazing, our celebrities aren’t actors and musicians. Many are renowned architects. We see their work and that’s how we remember them.
This year, the architectural world lost three of its greats: I.M. Pei, Philip Freelon and, most recently, Cesar Pelli. Each is famous in their own regard for the marks they’ve left on the world and architectural history.
When I think of each of these architects, I can find something relatable. This might be having visited the project or written about it, or maybe reading something that we had in common. Here’s what I mean.
I.M. Pei: He’s famous for many projects, but is probably most famous for the glass pyramids at the Louvre. I love Paris; it’s probably my favorite city outside the U.S., though I’ve only been twice. The last time was in 2014 when my husband and I did a whirlwind do-as-much-as-you-can-in-a-day visit. We knew we wouldn’t have the time to visit the Louvre itself, so we did the next best thing and visited the pyramids. It was a dreary day, and it rained off and on, but it was Paris and I was surrounded by famous glass and that was enough for the moment. (Note: I am starting to plan (ok, think about) my third trip and assure you it will include stepping into the museum itself.)
Pei also designed the Bank of China tower. This was a project I first learned about from my late, great friend Greg Carney, who had been the technical director for the Glass Association of North America. Before that, he had worked for a number of industry companies and often talked about his experiences working on some of these impressive global projects.
Philip Freelon: You MIGHT not yet know the name, but you most likely do know his famous project, the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
I had the absolute pleasure of writing about this project in 2017 when it was a winner of the USGlass Green Design Awards. That’s when I looked up the architect and found that he was located in Durham, N.C. I grew up about 40 miles north of Durham and every time I meet or hear of anyone from or living anywhere in the Old North State, I feel immediately bonded.
After his death, the New York Times reported: “Lonnie G. Bunch III, the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, of which it is a part, called him ‘one of the great architects of our time.’”
We can only imagine what he would have brought to us in the future.
Cesar Pelli: It was just a week or so ago that the architectural world said farewell to this great. His name is tied to many great projects, including the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. I first saw this project in the movie “Entrapment” with Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones. At the time it was about 6 weeks or so before I started working for USGlass, so I just thought, “Wow! Cool buildings …” A few weeks later I was here and those towers were featured on a company’s brochure. How’s that for foreshadowing?
Glass was a big part of Pelli’s work. A Curbed.com editorial reads “Pelli likened his skyscrapers to the architectural equivalent of Mount Everest: pathways between heaven and earth. And many of them—which often shared a similar visual language of gridded glass facades—appear to do just that.”
I’ve often said, if I knew then what I know now, I might have studied architecture. I like the way buildings come together and the intricacies of design. I see this in the work these great architects have left behind. When I look at their buildings, it’s not just a building, but their dream and vision brought to life.