Heritage Travel, Historic Preservation, Rest in Peace
Comments 4

I.M. Pei, Rest in Peace

Miho Museum entrance

Eight days before the revered architect I.M. Pei passed away at 102 years of age, I had the opportunity to visit one of his last—and more remote—commissions:  the Miho Museum in Japan.

Standing amidst the Shiga mountains in a protected nature preserve, Pei’s Miho Museum, which opened in 1997, fits in well with the other modern yet very accessible works of this master who left an indelible mark on the world before his passing on May 16th of this year.

Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural historian and author Paul Goldberger wrote a lovely obituary for Pei in the New York Times, capturing  the architect’s expansive work and spirit.  When thinking of Pei, my mind naturally turns to the beautiful East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., a museum I’ve visited many times.  One feature that always brings a smile to my face wasn’t exactly designed by Pei.  Etched into the stone is a listing of all those who made the East Building possible—politicians, National Gallery leadership, architects, and more.  At one point the beautiful Tennessee marble has turned a different color, the result of millions of visitors rubbing the name of I.M. Pei with their hands, wanting to connect physically and spiritually with the design that showed how a modernist could fit a masterpiece into the core of Washington’s monumental architecture.

While not as famous as the East Building, the glass pyramid at the Louvre, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, or other major works designed by Pei, the Miho Museum nonetheless struck me as impressive architecture that beautifully fit its site and unique program.*

Tunnel to Miho Museum
Mountain tunnel that leads visitors to the Miho Museum

After a slow ride up curvy mountain roads, one arrives at the Miho and its welcome center.  From that point visitors approach the museum itself via a pedestrian tunnel cut through the mountain, giving a hint of the 75% of the museum spaces that Pei placed underground to maintain the look of the nature preserve.

Entrance to bridge
Emerging from the pedestrian tunnel to cross a beautiful bridge, with its first glimpse of the museum building

From the darkness of the tunnel the light draws you toward a cantilevered bridge and a first look at the museum building.  I was there on a perfect spring day.  The shift from darkness to light and beauty was as striking as it was intentional.

Entrance to Miho Museum
Entrance to the Miho Museum

Once inside the museum, Pei’s use of steel and glass for the ceilings and some exterior walls, balanced with warm French limestone for the interior spaces, takes over the experience.  The extensive glass allows a sense of nature to move into the building, and also provides vistas which include an earlier bell tower Pei designed for the museum’s founder.

Interior view of the entrance hall
Interior view of the Miho Entrance Hall
Ceiling of Miho Museum
Interior view of the ceiling of I.M. Pei’s Miho Museum
View of the bell tower
View of the distant bell tower from the museum’s central hall

After almost two hours at this wonderful space, it was time to go.  The trip back from the light into the tunnel meant you were leaving what Pei, upon first seeing the site, described as Shangri-La.

View of the bridge and tunnel
Looking back across the cantilevered bridge
Bridge detail
Bridge detail, Miho Museum

I would have felt privileged to see this beautiful work of art at any point, but to have had the opportunity to be in Japan and to see the Miho Museum first-hand in the month of the master architect’s passing, was especially moving.

Rest in peace, I.M. Pei.  Your work has graced the world we live in.

More to come…


*I’m not going to use this post to go into the somewhat mysterious—and perhaps questionable—practices in acquisition of the collection by the controversial founder of the museum, Mihoko Koyama, who is also the founder of Shumeikai, a new religious group that claims some 300,000 followers.

Image: Entrance to I.M. Pei’s Miho Museum by DJB


I am David J. Brown (hence the DJB) and I originally created this personal blog more than ten years ago as a way to capture photos and memories from a family vacation. After the trip was over I simply continued writing. Over the years the blog has changed to have a more definite focus aligned with my interest in places that matter, reading well, roots music, and more. My professional background is as a national nonprofit leader with a four-decade record of growing and strengthening organizations at local, state, and national levels. This work has been driven by my passion for connecting people in thriving, sustainable, and vibrant communities.


  1. Hi David,
    What a wonderful article and pictures on the Miho Museum and I M Pei! Deborah Orr forwarded it to me along with others of yours which I have not yet accessed. Love your writing. I’m sure others on the trip would too!
    All my best to you, and so nice to have spent time with you.

    • DJB says

      Dear Sally,

      What a kind note, and it is so good to hear from you. I’m glad Deborah forwarded on the link, and that you enjoyed what you found here. Thanks for writing and following, and please stay in touch.

      All the best.

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