The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center was undertaken in the late-1970s to replace the Coliseum, New York’s much smaller and architecturally unremarkable exposition center of 1956. The new facility was to be the largest and most technologically advanced in the United States, intended to serve trade shows and political conventions as well as the public at large. Unlike most convention centers – large windowless boxes, cut off by acres of parking on the outskirts of the city – Javits was conceived in connective terms that would celebrate urban life and relate to the surrounding city, serving as an economic catalyst while physically revitalizing an under-utilized part of midtown Manhattan.
The commission came to Pei in 1979, in part because of his applauded diplomatic prowess (as was demonstrated locally by his community engagement at Columbia University). Pei would use his skills abundantly for Javits, navigating New York’s construction industry, political intrigues, fabrication problems, delayed schedules, budget deficits, changes of leadership, and scores of other problems involved in completing the most important public building in New York City in more than a half-century.
Pei was actively involved at the beginning of the project, conceptualizing what it should be, and remained the building’s high-profile spokesman throughout. However, Pei had only a marginal role in the design. Javits Convention Center was designed by Pei’s associate, James Ingo Freed, who became Pei’s partner in 1980 and would go on to establish his own identity as an enormously gifted architect.
Design Team: I.M. Pei, Partner in Charge; James Ingo Freed, Design Architect
I.M. Pei & Partners