Ieoh Ming Pei was born in 1917 in Guangzhou, China, and moved to the U.S. at age 17 to study architecture. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1940 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his master’s in 1946 from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, where he remained as an assistant professor for two years. In 1948 he moved to New York City to take a job as the director of architecture with real estate developer Webb & Knapp. There, he met Henry Cobb and Eason Leonard, with whom he formed I.M. Pei & Associates in 1955. The firm’s early projects included New York’s Kips Bay Plaza and Silver Towers, and, in Philadelphia, the Society Hill Towers.
By the late 1960s, Pei had graduated from real estate development projects and was winning and executing major commissions around the country, including the Des Moines Art Center and the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York, both completed in 1968. Ten years later, his East Building for the National Gallery of Art opened in Washington. The Académie d’Architecture de France awarded him its Grande Médaille d’Or in honor of his transformation of the Louvre.