Famed architect was hired at school’s inception and created its first dorm complex
I.M. Pei — considered one of the five greatest architects of the 20th century — was hired as the architect for Sarasota’s New College in September 1963.
The famed architect, who died Thursday morning at the age of 102, said at the time that the 115-acre campus would be his biggest challenge to date.
Pei’s broadest potential impact on New College’s architecture would never be realized: financial problems prevented the fledgling college from constructing more than a few Pei buildings before he resigned from the project in 1967.
But the “Pei dormitories” — also known as first, second and third court — were realized.
Though the dormitories have been difficult and expensive to maintain for the college, from an aesthetic standpoint, “they are wonderful,” Sarasota School of Architecture practitioner Carl Abbott told the Herald-Tribune in 2015.
Ieoh Ming Pei was 46 when New College, which was founded in 1960 but did not admit students until 1964, selected him from among an international slate of architects to design the campus. Such noted designers as John Carl Warnecke, the man who designed President Kennedy’s grave site, and Louis Kahn were considered.
Pei — a native of Suzhou, China, who came to America in 1935 at age 18 — said in the Sept. 24, 1963, edition of the Herald-Tribune that “New College is the greatest challenge I have ever faced. It is easy to build an additional building on a campus where the environment already exists. Here we have to create environment. If we are successful, New College will gain for many hundreds of years. We must not fail.”
Twenty-five years later, Pei would create his landmark Pyramid at the Louvre Museum in Paris. In December 1964, Jacqueline Kennedy chose Pei’s firm to design the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston.
Money was the issue at New College from the start, with trustees stunned by Pei’s construction price tag of $25 per square foot at a time when commercial buildings were going up for $10 a square foot.
But those buildings would ultimately prove to be Pei’s only contribution to New College. By 1967, constrained by what he would be able to do architecturally at the school, Pei resigned.
Information from real estate editor emeritus Harold Bubil was used in this report.