Learning from Light: The Vision of I.M. Pei (Bo Landin, 2009): USA

Reviewed by Lea Encarnacion. Viewed at the Victoria Hall as part of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

I.M. Pei says, “Architecture is form, space, light and movement.  More important than the building is the land on which it stands.” Learning from Light: The Vision of I.M. Pei is directed by Bo Landin and Sterling Van Wagenen.  The subject of this documentary is I.M. Pei’s Islamic building in Doha, Qatar to be used as a museum of art.  In Islamic architecture, religion has a tremendous effect on the architecture, just like Christianity.  For I.M. Pei, who built the Louvre in Paris and the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, geometry plays a tremendous role.  For the project, he was inspired by Ibn Tulun’s mosque in Cairo.  He has also traveled extensively to Spain and Tunisia and the documentary shows beautiful architectural shots of Alhambra and the mosque of Cordoba in Spain.  The buildings were inspired by stories from Koran and calligraphy patterns flourished in the walls of the interior like Arabesque.  “The Islamic mosque is made of pure volumes, a variation of volumes, octagons to octagons and then spheres.  Under sunlight it is magical, You don’t need anything else”, says I.M. Pei. “architecture is geometry in solid form.” “The movement of the sun is what makes the building come alive.” I.M. Pei, who is 92 years old accepts his time and what he can do in the world of architecture.  “A good client makes a good architecture.”

We are shown the construction processes as well as the workers and materials used while in the process of creating his building.  It moved to be very challenging for the project engineer working on the building.  After three years his dream of building on water was completed.  I.M. Pei visits the building frequently to check for problems.  (He in fact had not anticipated so many problems like palm fronds dying.)  Speaking with his team, they say he has a lot of discipline, positivity and energy.  That is what they admire about him.  The background music is just as beautiful as the architecture and was classical and worldly.  An outside dome reminds I.M. Pei of renaissance architecture like Brunelleschi.  I.M. Pei did an inside dome because its Islamic.  The dome inside is made of steel.  The construction of chandelier and careful and meticulous preparation and display of museum objects are shown.  The water is beautiful and poetic.

The stunning architectural views are accompanied by equally rich classical and world music by Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Project.  I.M. Pei leaves us with the statement, “I enjoy learning about the cultural tradition of locale and that is what art is to me.”  This documentary is one of the best films I saw at the Santa

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