Didi Pei, an architect and a francophile

parisdiaArchitecture16 Comments

Didi Pei was born in 1946 and studied at Exeter and at Harvard

I met architect Didi Pei on the laguna of le Pyla in September 1986, drinking Château la Lagune. He died on December 13 from a heart attack at home in New York.

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.

Emmanuel Macron chose the Pyramid for his inauguration as President in 2017

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.

The new winery for Château Lynch-Bages Didi recently completed

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 loved to party and wore his black tie very well

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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16 Comments on “Didi Pei, an architect and a francophile”

  1. J’ai rencontré Didi Pei à Toulon : invité de mon voisin Antoine de Ganay, il est venu prendre un thé à la maison avec ses enfants. Ce fut un moment agréable : sa personnalité très douce mais si intense répondait à celle plus
    extravertie de sa femme. Un beau souvenir de la villa Paradis .

  2. Chere Laure,
    Time’s “winged chariot” claims another victim.
    Anyone who issued dinner invitations for the following
    ten minutes obviously was a good friend. My condolences
    Jon R, who hopes to see you early in the new year

  3. Dear Laure,
    You captured so well Didi’s charm, intellect and his rich and varied interests. It is so sad he is gone and gone so suddenly.
    Love Cathleen

  4. My dear Laure, thank God for your Paris Diary!!! Otherwise the memory of dear friends would remain dormant in our dreams. I do recall the happy moments with Didi at 1100 Madison Avenue. He gave me to taste a wonderful sauterne with roquefort; and ever since I have remained a big fan of this delicious combination. May he live within our hearts!!!

  5. Dear Laure,
    I am so sorry to hear about Didi’s sudden passing. I didn’t know him well but he had or seemed to have a gentle and generous heart.

  6. Thank you for reminding us, dear Laure.

    I warmly recall the time he so graciously guided us, on the opening day, around the museum annex in Suzhou which he and his father I.M.Pei had jointly designed and donated to the city where I.M. was born.

    That gift was all the more extraordinary, given that the I.M. parental home and its precious garden had been confiscated by the state decades earlier.

  7. How very sad to hear Didi passed away so young.
    He was a remarkable and delightful person.
    Thank you, Laure, for the lovely photographs you send us to remember both Didi and his father. Father and son were so much alike physically, intellectually ang humanly. Extremely smart and yet behaving like any other human being.
    His warm and so honest smile will remain in our hearts for long, so as his father’s.
    Let us send our warmest regards to Beatrice and their children.

  8. J’ai connu Didi et Béatrice. Didi en plus d’être charmant était un être humain exceptionnel. Bien sur, il est parti trop tôt.
    Mes bonnes pensées à sa femme Béatrice.

    Merci Laure pour tout ce que tu nous as fait partager et pour tes futures découvertes en 2024 !
    Meilleurs Vœux !!!

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