A Master of Design: Sandi Pei ’68

To open this year’s celebration of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month on May 3, 2024, the School warmly welcomed back award-winning architect and former Trustee Li Chung “Sandi” Pei ’68, who began his presentation by sharing some of his own fond memories of his student days at Middlesex.

Back then, Sandi recalled, the School had an enrollment of 200 boys, with 30 faculty members and only six dorms. While he was best known for his skills as a photographer, he was also a budding entrepreneur who ran a snack bar on campus and set up a darkroom in Hallowell House’s basement. “Though I didn’t become an architect here,” Sandi said, “what I really enjoyed was learning, testing, and probing. The support I received from the School is what I remember most.” And though the School is coeducational today, with 420 students, Sandi observed, “I still feel that special character of Middlesex.”

As Sandi detailed, following his graduation from Middlesex and Harvard, he earned his master’s in architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He began his career at the practice of his father, renowned architect I.M. Pei, whose works include Boston’s JFK Library and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris. Sandi played a leading role in such award-winning projects as the MIT Arts + Media Technologies Facilities (1982); the Creative Artists Agency Headquarters, Beverly Hills, CA (1989); and the Bank of China Tower, Hong Kong (1990).

In 1992, Sandi started his own firm, now known as PEI Architects, which he described as a “small but international” practice. Of the numerous projects he has been involved in – from educational facilities, laboratories, and museums to commercial office buildings, hotels, and residential projects – he spoke in depth about a dozen of them, highlighting some of the aesthetic considerations and engineering challenges required by each. One of them, the House of Dancing Water in Macau (2010), Sandi considers “the most complicated project I’ve ever worked on,” as it required the input of more than 60 consultants to engineer and construct this unique theatre housing a permanent water show designed by director Franco Dragone, known for his work with Cirque du Soleil. Given the complexity and excellence of Sandi’s work, it is not surprising that he has already been honored with Middlesex’s Henry Cabot Lodge (1920) Distinguished Alumni Award.

His current endeavors include a boutique hotel in Fuzhou, China, and a pair of mixed-use towers in Shanghai for the Bank of China, yet Sandi also clearly appreciates a variety of architectural designs and settings. “I’ve always loved the plan of Middlesex – the relationship of the buildings to the environment,” Sandi reflected. “That has probably informed me a lot. I just love being here.”