IM Pei’s Suzhou Museum is a masterly modern take on Chinese traditional buildings, says Pak Hung Lai, whereas the Shanghai Convention Centre is just, well, balls

My Wonder is IM Pei’s Suzhou Museum, one hour’s drive to the north-west of Shanghai. Pei is better known for his extension to the Louvre in Paris or the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in New York 20 or 30 years ago, but to me he is a modern master.

The museum is sited in the centre of town next to the traditional 300-year-old Chinese gardens that Suzhou is famous for, so the design starts from there and follows the feel of the gardens. It was completed in 2006 and is beautifully done. Pei did it when he was supposed to be retired, but he did this because Suzhou is where his family is from.

This is interesting as he is known for his modern style – he is not known at all for being traditional. There may be some disappointment when people see this the first time as it perhaps looks a bit ordinary. But it takes account of the Asian and Chinese artefacts that it houses as its setting. It is not trying to be loud and say: “Hey – I’m here”. It has a certain echo of Chinese traditional buildings – pitched roof, grey lines, white walls. For me it works perfectly.

My blunder is the Shanghai Convention Centre, built opposite the Bund in Pudong. It is disappointing because it is right in the heart of the city and the site deserved a building like the Sydney Opera House. Two giant balls stick out from each end of the building and are supposed to depict the world. They are easily 100m in circumference and look awful. The building may have been thought trendy when it opened in 1999 but it has not stood the test of time.


The 160,000ft2 Suzhou Museum, which opened in 2006, has many of the hallmarks of Pei’s earlier designs — his squares, rectangles and pyramids — as well as an expansive use of glass and light. It also has traditional motifs, such as a Chinese garden with an artificial pond, a Chinese footbridge and a wall of thinly sliced rocks that creates an image of mountain peaks.


The 110,000m2 Shanghai International Convention Centre consists of convention halls and meeting rooms, including one that accommodates 3,000 diners or 4,000 people for a meeting.