February 1st, 2010
I.M. Pei
Building China Modern

Wednesday, March 31 at 9 p.m. on PBS

I.M. Pei has been called the most important living modern architect,  defining the landscapes of some of the world’s greatest cities.  A monumental figure in his field and a laureate of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, Pei is the senior statesman of modernism and last surviving link to such great early architects as Corbusier, Gropius, and Mies van der Rohe.   Entering into the twilight of his career and well into his eighties, Pei returns to his ancestral home of Suzhou, China to work on his most personal project to date.   He is commissioned to build a modern museum in the city’s oldest neighborhood which is populated by classical structures from the Ming and Qing dynasties.  For the architect who placed the pyramid at the Louvre, the test to integrate the new with the old is familiar but still difficult.  The enormous task is to help advance China architecturally without compromising its heritage.  In the end, what began as his greatest challenge and a labor of sentiment, says Pei, ultimately becomes “my biography.”

Watch a preview:

Premiering nationally on Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 9 p.m. (ET) on PBS(check local listings), American Masters’s I.M. Pei: Building China Modern follows Pei on this historic journey to define China’s architectural vision as it comes into its own on the world stage.  Post-broadcast, the film will stream online for 3 months here on the American Masters Web site.

“I.M. Pei is an architectural poet – a living legend,” says Susan Lacy, series creator and executive producer of American Masters, a seven-time winner of the Emmy Award for Outstanding Primetime Non-Fiction Series.   “He’s among the league of rare American masters whose artistic sensibilities have both provoked public debate and transformed our notions of what is possible, of how tradition can be honored in the 21st century.”

The film captures Pei as he forges an architectural language that brings together Western modernity and Eastern tradition into a current synthesis.  After decades of living in the U.S. and amassing unprecedented international acclaim for his projects, Pei returns as a “foreigner” to his birth country to give a new direction for Chinese architecture in which history can live in the midst of change.  In effect, Pei, who has contributed to America’s urban landscape during the height of its architectural and engineering power is now helping China do the same.  Few architects have played such a critical dual role.

With an agenda of change, Pei inevitably enters into a crucible of conflict in Suzhou.  For those concerned about the loss of traditional forms of architectural identity, he is too modern.  For those who would simply bulldoze China’s past, he is too tradition-minded.   Adding to the already complex assignment, he faces the controversy of displacing residents living at the museum site.  To meet the design challenges, Pei draws on ideas that stretch far back within his own life and work – including a 1946 thesis project at Harvard, where he was taught abstract modern architecture.  Throughout his education and career, Pei maintains his “impossible dream” to bring together modernity and traditional, regional influences (including nature) in his work.  Eight years in the making, American Masters I.M. Pei: Building China Modern traces Pei’s pursuit of that dream and explores the defining conflicts of our age – the lure of the modern versus the pull of history.  The result is a surprisingly revealing and intimate portrait of the man who set as his goal nothing less than the redefinition of architecture in modern China.

American MastersI.M. Pei: Building China Modern is a co-production of PACEM Distribution International, LLC and the Independent Television Service (ITVS) in association with South Carolina ETV (SCETV), the China Intercontinental Communication Center (CICC), and The New River Education Fund, Inc.  Eugene B. Shirley, Jr. is producer.  Anne Makepeace is director.  Eugene B. Shirley, Jr. and Anne Shirley are executive producers.   Caroline Courtauld and Tom Parry are co-executive producers.  Anne Makepeace and Brian Funck are writers.  Polly Kosko is executive-in-charge of production for SCETV.  Sally Jo Fifer is executive producer for ITVS.  Susan Lacy is the series creator and executive producer of American Masters.

American Masters is made possible by the support of the National Endowment for the Arts and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  Additional funding for American Masters is provided by Rosalind P. Walter, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Jack Rudin, Elizabeth Rosenthal in memory of Rolf W. Rosenthal, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation, and public television viewers.

Miho MuseumMajor funding for American MastersI.M. Pei: Building China Modern is provided by Shumei and its flagship cultural institution, the Miho Museum.  Additional funding for the program is provided by Kimball Chen, Alice King, Goldman Sachs (Asia) LLC, Shirley Young, Paul B.J. & Phyllis S.Y. Chu Charitable Trust, Ambrose W.H. Lam, Elaine Forsgate Marden, Grace Wu Bruce, Sir David Tang, Adeline Yen Mah and Robert A. Mah.

  • David E. Spence

    Seven and a half years of film… Returning after 70 years… Absolultely STELLAR!!!

  • Jean Cherni

    I am so glad to be alerted to this. Just after the museum first opened, I was on a trip to China and altho our guide kept insisting, “Not on itinerary”, my companion and I insisted we wanted to visit this museum. Both the
    town and museum were absolutely beautiful and much more enjoyable than some of the large, better known stops like The Summer Palace. Your advance notice of what is coming helps me to plan my viewing time and I won’t miss this.

  • Kenneth Huo 賀昌申

    Pei, as an Chinese American, the Chinese Accent will gradually fade away, but the Home Sickness will be getting deeper and deeper…

  • Raymond Noble

    wonderful program, i did not know of Mr.Pie before this program but found him to be of a lovely human quality and enjoyed his storey very much, thank you.

  • Elizabeth Stroebel

    Touched my very soul. One of most endearing realistic beautiful and passionate last moments of one’s life.

  • Emily Breitner

    I.M. Pei’s Suzhou Museum is a masterpiece – a fusion of modern and traditional elements, including a breathtaking stone garden. The tension between the new and old is positive, joyous, both intimate and expansive – a wonderful space to cast light on old art in new space. This museum reminds me of Japan’s Miho Museum, in a protected nature reserve above Kyoto – again, a space that brings light, soaring atria and intimate niches serving the art on display, gardens, and its own architecture. Ten years since I’ve seen the Miho; I would love to visit it again – and now have added Shzhou, the city, and Suzhou, the new museum to my “must see” places. Both are restorative to the soul. What a gift from I.M. Pei.
    Thank you, PBS, for bringing I,M. Pei/Suzhou Museum to viewers like me.

  • E. D’Silva

    This is certainly one of the best PBS programs that I have seen for a long time. On my next China visit, I will make it a point to visit Suzhou so I can see I.M. Pei’s masterpiece.

  • Sara Bojarski

    Thankyou PBS and American Masters for your wonderful show about I.M. Pei. My husband and I just finished watching the show. Educational TV at it’s best !

  • Betty

    This was an excellent film. I can’t wait till I can go and visit this museum. I’ve always admired I.M. Pei. This film did an excellent job of interweaving his fascinating personal story with his architecture and understanding how he was inspired. His energy and vision really shined. Thanks for a quality film.

  • J Swift

    Why not in HD?

  • Michael C

    Visiting the Museum this summer


    In 2007, I visited the Miho Museum in Japan, by I.M. Pei. I thought that it was architecture as poetry. It took my breath away. The feeling that I experienced while walking through the museum and grounds in Japan still stays with me. Having just watched the American Masters ‘ I.M.Pei: Building China Modern production for PBS/TV, I am once again experiencing the same sense of wonder at I.M.Pei’s work in creating an architectural poem. I hope that I will be able to visit his museum in Suzhou.

  • Carol Hama Chang

    Very interesting show. I got a bit of education to night! It was an eye opener for me, as I had no idea. Shows like that give “depth” to the American culture. Thank you for advertising and televising it. It gives Architecture a touch of glamour! We need more shows like that. A breath of fresh air…enough with the gangs, guns, drugs and murders etc.

  • Francis Ching

    When will I be able to buy a copy of Building China Modern on DVD?

    Very well done, I could not take my eyes off of the presentation, Outstanding!

  • J. Michael Joly

    The I. M. Pei American Masters program last evening about the Suzhou New Museum was of an evocative interest to me since my daughter-in-law and son are presently in Suzhou with her parents for a brief stay.
    Is there a way I can purchase a DVD of this program? Thanks for your time!

  • Ruth Bowman

    It was a wonderful visit with Mr. Pei. I have been following his work ever since I met him many years ago. Each discussion in the film was very interesting and demanding of the viewers on channel 13 last night. I would love to follow up on others who have seen the fine film. Ruth Bowman

  • Lisa Kiley

    I have never been to China, but if i do have a chance, I will definitely go to Suzhou. Pei is a genius and a world treasure. A must watch film.

  • Eleanor Vincent

    This was a visually stunning and inspiring program. Mr. Pei and his firm did an outstanding job, and the personal interviews and reminiscences were so moving – the insight into life in a Chinese city was also very welcome. I would love to visit the city and the museum. Thank you, American Masters!

  • Doreen Liem

    When will the I. M. Pei program aired on 3-31-10 be repeated? I am so sorry I did not know about. I and many others would love to have a chance to view it. I would appreciate hearing from you. Thank you.

  • Cindy Donahey

    He should dedicate himself to redesigning their dam system, as it was originally derived.

    Cut stone that seeped and grew ferns and wildflowers

    Cataract waterfalls or spillkways – fish ladders

    A mostly empty lake that only filled up in flood years with plants that withstand intermittent wet and dry.

    That way there will still be a China. If China falls, we all fall.

  • Y.B. Tomm


    I had worked for Mr. Pei as an apprentice in the late 60’s and am totally disappointed in missing his March 31 telecast. Kindly advise me how I may acquire a CD copy of “American Masters – I.M. Pei”

    Many thanks,
    Y. B. Tomm

  • Eugene Tenenbaum

    It would be nice to see it again.

  • Adam Reed

    Fascinating to see how architecture demonstrates and symbolizes the changes in China’s cultural history and to see how an architect operates as part artist and part salesman to ring a vision to life. I’ve visited Beijing and Shanghai; after seeing this piece, I’m very interested in visiting Suzhou to see Pei’s museum in context. Excellent piece!

  • Rosalind Russell

    I came upon the I. M. Pei program quite by chance– I hadn’t picked up my program guide. it –the museum– and the program–both were superb. It almost restored my faith in PBS. I wish you would do more seriously cultural programs . Your effort to reach the masses is painful. But you do, from time to time, offer us wonderful surprises. So hurrah to you for doing this one!

  • Colby C Mitchell

    My all time favorite architect!! Being an architecture major myself, I have always found Pei’s work to be dear to me. I admire his humility and thoughtfulness in his designs, as well as his life in general. I was blessed to be able to visit China back in 2008 and was saddened not to have had the opportunity to visit any of his work there, neither the museum nor the Bank of China in Hong Kong. I am determined to return and have the chance to admire the Suzhou Museum. Though, I have had the opportunity to vist the East Gallery in Washington. Breathtaking indeed!! I’d love for a chance to meet him and his sons some day. I even e-mailed his office in New York and had a warm response from one of his secretaries. I already own First Person Singular and several of his books. Can’t wait to see the Learning from Light documentary!

  • Kim Price

    Can this movie be shown with closed captioning o subtitles?

  • PSmith

    THIS is sustainable architecture. I happened to turn this on when it aired, and could not take my eyes off. Please make available on DVD!

  • Norman Rosenfeld

    I worked for I M Pei first job out of architecture school. I M was a gentle-man then a patient mentor
    and superb architect. It was no surprise that the same qualities stayed with him 50 years later after
    great success in designing world acclaimed buildings as evidenced in the Suhzou Museum.
    A masterpiece from a Master Architect and a sensitive soul.

  • CheeYan Ong

    I watched “IM Pei: Building China Modern” for the first time on May 23, 2010. Thank you, PBS for telecasting such a wonderful documentary on the greatest architect of my generation.

    IM Pei is inspirational beyond words. His Suzhou Museum project spanned over 5 years and at 89 years old, IM Pei completed his final and greatest self-fulfilling project of his lifetime…. the native son returning to his place of birth.

    I have been to Suzhou twice, the last time was in June 2006 before the opening of the Suzhou museum. I know I will be visiting Suzhou again for the third time because I must see the Suzhou Museum while I am still alive. I would be able to experience IM Pei’s “vision of the future by preserving the past”.

    Seeing the works of such a great master in the poetic settings of Suzhou will be self-fulfilling for me too!!

  • WT Lew

    Although I have not seen the program, I was able to visit the musuem last week and sadly to inform that the musuem, though beautifully designed, is poorly maintained. Just wish that if only the museum can be managed like the upscale hotels…………..

  • Maureen

    This documentary is very inspiring. It makes me want to visit Suzhou again just to experience the new art museum. I would also like to visit other masterpieces created by I. M. Pei in other parts of the world.

    I wonder if the documentary could have Chinese subtitles so that some of my Chinese friends can also enjoy it?

  • Abby

    Does anyone know if this documentary is available to watch anywhere? I would love to see it but can’t find the video.

  • Ben Parker

    A DVD would be great. PBS?

  • Douglas Pardue

    I’d like to second Mr. Parker’s request for a DVD. It’s been over 3 months since the stream was disabled with no way to watch or order this excellent documentary. I’d like to obtain a copy for instruction…



  • Susan Kline

    I also would like to buy this DVD!

    Why hasn’t it been made available?

  • psmith

    Please make this video available for purchase!

  • john hsia

    I have fortunately recorded this program on my DVR, and have been able to watch it several times. Excellent production — extremely well thought out and produced. I join others in asking for DVD to purchase and send to my friends. Link to the full documentary doesn’t seem to work.

  • mlkrborn

    Great doc..Does anyone know how to watch it again?

  • Patricia ONeill

    Fabulous documentary. Was just there and so nice to have this record to return to. Please do put out the DVD. Thanks.

  • amintern

    Please check your local listings for re broadcast dates

  • M. K. K. Ma

    I was in Suzhou in 2010 and paid the museum a visit. It was absolutely fantastic. The museum itself is not only a great artifact, but also an excellent contemporary interpretation of Chinese architecture. Really admired Mr. I. M. Pei’s works after since

  • Celia Daniel

    I was touched by the project in Suzhou.
    I wish Mr. Pei happiness for the rest of his life.
    What a wonderful soul.

    We love you…
    Mr. Pei.


  • Nathan

    I can’t believe this still hasn’t been released on DVD. Great documentary on one of the most talented people around. I had the honor of meeting him and he is incredibly nice too.

  • Emil

    Please make this available for purchase.. I’ve been waiting for ages now.. I’m a Swede so PBS isn’t available here, but I would be able to order, a win-win situation for sure.

  • m l goodman

    dvd please—for teaching purposes
    prof. m louis goodman

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