I is for Islamic. M is for Museum. Pei is for Pei.
December 14, 2008 8:28 AM   Subscribe

Famous for his Western works, such as the Louvre Pyramid, Chinese architect I.M. Pei has capped off his long career with The Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar. The architecture of the museum is a blend of Islamic and modern elements, resulting in a sort of cubist sculpture. The collection, meant to be an overview of Islamic art throughout history, is extensive but not without a few flaws.

Islamic art on MeFi: here, here, here, here
posted by grapefruitmoon (8 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't say that "caps his career" in the sense of being his best building. Several of his previous museums are much better.
posted by beagle at 8:38 AM on December 14, 2008

I meant "capped his career" in the sense of this being his last building. Sorry for any confusion.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:52 AM on December 14, 2008

Unbeknownst to many, Pei had a number of projects in Augusta, GA in the 1970's. They include the penthouse addition to the Lamar building (an obvious precedent to the Louvre addition in terms of clashing styles), the James Brown Arena (renowned for its poor acoustics), and a redesign of Broad Street (supposedly the only main street in America that is wider than Canal Street) that included a new Chamber of Commerce building that many feel is unwieldy enough that it should be turned into a parking lot. Although he has done some great work, the citizens of Augusta are not particularly impressed.
posted by TedW at 9:56 AM on December 14, 2008

Lovely! How much does to get there from Central Illinois?

I notice that there are quite a Flickr images of the Museum which provide an almost poor man's tour. It seems that the building is managing already to make vivid impressions on the imagination.

Personally, I'm impressed with the complex, cool interiority of Pei's building, and more inclined to echo the enthusiasm of the comments I see on Flickr than the measured praise of Nicolai Ouroussoff, or the criticisms of Souren Melikian. Thanks for the post.
posted by washburn at 10:36 AM on December 14, 2008

This sort of reminds me of the Loews theater in Pittsburgh. I mean, it's a better building, but it's still sort of a cartoon version of oldschool Islamic architecture, the same way the Loews is a cartoon version of a golden age movie palace.

I bet if I paid more attention to architecture, I'd be able to think of better examples. Is there a name for this trend? Is it a trend at all, or am I finding connections where none exist?
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:41 AM on December 14, 2008

Nebula, maybe you're thinking of "Moorish Revival" architecture? Or perhaps a Moorish Revival revival?

Side note: in my sort of garbled comment above ("almost poor man's tour"?) I'd meant to link to this page of Flickr search results, but I seem to have forgoten to proofread my work, as usual.
posted by washburn at 11:11 AM on December 14, 2008

Your comparison is not entirely without merit, nebulawindphone, but I think that Loews and Qatar arrived at similar places through different routes. The American Moorish Revival was explicitly Orientalist, evoking the mystique of faraway places as an escape from drab daily Western life. The modern Islamic trend is about the competing influences of ancient Middle Eastern culture and modernity itself. The museum has an air of discomfort about it, suggesting these contrasts are not yet resolved.

Calling it a cartoon, I think, isn't any more appropriate here than when it was applied to postmodern skyscrapers like Philip Johnson's AT&T building or the Portland Building -- or even the explicit references to Islamic architecture in the modernist edifice that was the World Trade Center. These, too, were struggles to express differing strains of beauty, pitting form and function against each other as much as in concert.

I find some Middle Eastern architecture today to have odd Las Vegas qualities to it, such as the tower looming over the Grand Mosque in Mecca. The scale of that Abraj Al Abait project is Soviet, and indeed it appears almost an akilter rendering of one of Moscow's Seven Sisters. That project, apart from an ersatz crescent, borrows nothing from Islamic tradition. By comparison Pei's work is elegant and understated. I think the Arab world will regret this cash-fueled building boom just as the 20th century was both exhilarating and devastating for architecture fans in the West.
posted by dhartung at 2:46 PM on December 14, 2008

...but not without a few flaws.

* ducks for shelter *
posted by not_on_display at 10:02 PM on December 14, 2008

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