At the time, he was overseeing the building of the Louvre pyramid for his father, I.M. Pei, and had moved to France for three years. Perfectly trilingual (Mandarin, French, English), he immediately charmed me with his extremely refined manners, his elegance, his sense of humor, his perfect understanding of the French and his kindness. He was also a great diplomat. The job of being his father’s ambassador on the worksite was not easy as the building was very political and represented President Mitterrand’s great cultural achievement. It is not yet as visited as the Eiffel tower but close. President Macron chose the Pyramid for the decor of his inauguration when he was elected in 2017 and images of the Louvre circulated around the world.
The last time I saw Didi was last Spring when he took me around the apartment he was renovating near Odéon. He was so happy to finally have acquired his own place in Paris with Béatrice, his French wife, whom he married in 1989 at Cercle Militaire, and their three children. Guests to their wedding were a mixture of architects and winemakers such as Christian Moueix, a close friend. He completed the winery for Château Lynch-Bages in Bordeaux, another dream he had since he loved and knew so much about wine. He attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusets (as did his daughter Olivia) and studied at Harvard, but learned Mandarin at Columbia during intensive summer sessions because his parents spoke Shanghainese at home. This enabled him later on to work frequently in China. After collaborating with his father he started his own company with his younger brother Sandi, “Pei Partnership” and at the end of his life, I.M. Pei often did projects with them.
He invited me once, in 1987, to his parents home in Katonah, N.Y. and I was of course very impressed by the simplicity of their lifestyle. After dinner, we all left the table and I.M. Pei, who was already a giant at the time, started washing the dishes on his own. It was his task at home.
He spent a major part of his professional life in China overseeing huge projects like the headquarters of Bank of China in Beijing and smaller ones like Guangzhou’s pedestrian bridge. He had a special love for the city of Suzhou where his father was raised, and they jointly designed a museum there, which was inaugurated in 2006. He designed the People’s Republic of China’s Embassy in Washington D.C. and worked on various projects in the Middle East. He had also prepared a project for the National Slavery museum in Southern USA which was never built. As he was getting older, he tried to find more projects in France and was working on the renovation of the American church on quai d’Orsay.
Didi was chairman of the China Institute in New York and had been crowned by many wine academies. By chance I lived in the same building as he in 1987 on 1100 Madison Avenue and we shared many wine tasting dinners together. He was a dear friend who always appeared in my life saying : are you free for dinner in ten minutes? I already miss him dearly.
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