The search for symmetry is one of the keystones of traditional Chinese architecture besides being a symbol feature of many of the works by the architect I. M. Pei: a world of lines, triangles, squares and pure symmetry, and the famous glass pyramid at the Louvre Museum is witness to this.

The Suzhou Museum in the northwest region of Shanghai, is the second large work by the architect I. M. Pei in his homeland.

In 2002 the Suzhou government authorities commissioned the museum building from him, for a total of 5,000 square meters exhibition area which were destined to conserve the treasures of the thousand years old Suzhou, political and cultural heart of China during the Ming and Qing dynasties (XV-XVI century).

The Government committee promoting the project, specifically asked Mr. Pei to design a modern building in “Suzhou style”. The architect’s main reflection was what was the authentic style that had guided constructions in the region over the centuries, and it was the guideline for all the composition research throughout the project.

He used white for the walls and grey stone for the roofs, the traditional Suzhou colours combined with modern forms and materials: steel for all the bearing structures for the roofs and the introduction of large windows.

The visitors’ itinerary is marked by an artificial pond with small waterfalls, and their sound accompanies and guides them through the museum.

Reinterpreting antique traditions, or rather what we presume recalls them, in a modern key and style is difficult but extremely stimulating. << (…) In China – the architect told us – architecture and the garden are one (…) A western building is a building and a garden is a garden. They are related in spirit, but they are one in China.>> (1)

This is why the building drawings are at the same time organisation of the gardens, courtyards and artificial pond, with the open areas that connect it to the portion of the park that is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In designing the Suzhou Museum, for a country that is the world’s fastest-growing economy with new buildings and settlements, the wish was to develop the wealth of its thousand years old cultural traditions, without being a slave to them and neither subjected to western models.

(1) “I. M. Pei in China, Revisiting Roots”, “The New York Times” New York City, New York, USA, October 9, 2006, article by David Barboza.

Marina Cescon