Chinatown museum to honor Pei at new site

By Lauren Elkies | August 26, 2008 02:21PM

Chinese-born, world-renowned architect I. M. Pei will be honored by the Museum of Chinese in America for his impact on Chinese-American history at the museum’s new home this winter.

At the museum’s annual fundraising gala on December 9, Pei and other VIPs will get the first peak at the Chinatown museum’s new structure at 211-215 Centre Street, between Howard and Grand streets, said Sam Krueger, the museum’s chief operating officer.

The Museum of Chinese in America, also known as MOCA, is a non-profit institution that showcases the history, heritage, culture and experiences of people of Chinese descent in the U.S. 

Pei will receive a lifetime achievement award. He immigrated to the United States in 1935 and has designed buildings all over the world, including nearly 30 projects in New York City, such as the Four Seasons Hotel. It is unusual for Pei to publicly accept an award.

“Pei stopped accepting awards generally some years ago, in view of his age,” his executive assistant, Nancy Robinson, said in an e-mail. “He is 91 now, and has been cutting back on public appearances for quite some time. He made an exception for this one, because of his ties to the Chinese-American community, and his wish to support MOCA.”

The museum is slated to officially open its 14,000-square-foot space, occupying the first floor and basement, in January. Maya Lin designed the new facility.

The building has a skylight on the first floor with a view protected by zoning laws, Krueger said. 

Roughly five blocks away is the 2,500-square-foot old museum space at 70 Mulberry Street, which closed in February. It will reopen in a couple of years as the museum’s archival and research center, for scholars and journalists. Above the museum are commercial tenants.

The structure still needs work on its facades, flooring, glazing, drywall and millwork, Krueger said.

Between the December 9 soft launch and January, the museum will likely be open for smaller donor and press events, Krueger said, and the staff will be fine-tuning a permanent exhibit with multimedia features.

The Museum of Chinese in America, which has 400 members, will have a permanent exhibit on Chinese-American history, “The Chinese American Experience.” Another gallery will hold a rotating show. The first exhibit is The Chinatown Film Project, which will present short films by 10 New York City filmmakers, using Chinatown as the subject, Krueger said.

The September 11 Fund, founded by Congress, allocated $2.2 million for the museum’s new facility, with the hope that it would attract more tourists and increase community spaces downtown. The larger space will allow the museum to accommodate class visits, and the museum hopes to rent out space for corporate and non-profit events.