Thursday, December 11, 2008

Contemporary and Islamic art

When I was in the Swedish Architecture Museum, I browsed a book, I.M. Pei, his complete works. I've been aware of I.M. Pei for many years, including the first time I was aware of his style when the Center for Atmospheric Research was built in Boulder, Colorado, when I was a child. Later I was captivated by the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art when it opened while Diane and I lived in Maryland. To my great delight, the "complete works" includes Pei's latest and last contribution to the world of architecture, the Islamic Art Museum in Doha.

The description of the Islamic Art Museum is wonderful, including Pei's statement that the Islamic Art Museum is his most ambitious and complete work. Pei's selection as the architect resulted after a failed competition that did not yield a design satisfactory to Qatari visionaries. They went after Pei who demanded that the museum be built away from the Corniche on an island of its own so that other buildings on the Coniche would never be able to obscure its beauty. Pei painstakingly studied many Arab world and Islamic buildings for his inspiration. He also studied the intricate designs prevalent in textile, rugs, and tiles (one displayed in the new museum is to the left). The result of Pei's careful study and genius is a building where literally every centimeter is a reflection of the art and culture that defines the Persian, Arab, and Islamic cultures. And, in the most amazing artistic colision, Pei's life-long commitment to sharp, clean, expressive contemporary lines meshes with Islamic art in electrifying ways.

One of the most spell-binding colisions is in the center of the Museum where, when you look up, you see ascending and closing octagons (to right) with natural light at the top. In this picture, you also see the underneath of the huge arcing chandelier, covered with a beautiful surface of Arabic geometric patterns. The chandelier then becomes the connector between the height and floor of the Museum when you look down from one of the hanging staircases; there you see the amazing combination of geometric forms in the floor, punctuated by the sweep of the chandelier. In the picture below, you see the chandelier as it was intended to reflect the lamps that so often light the interiors of Mosques throughout the world of Islam.

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