The structure screams “Cleveland” to the world, but if the architect who designed it had followed his instincts, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum wouldn’t exist as we know it. You see, I.M. Pei initially turned down the job.
“Look, I don’t know anything about rock ’n’ roll — I’m a classical guy,” is how former Rock Hall director Larry Thompson paraphrases Pei’s reaction to the request (Pei, 92, no longer gives interviews).
But Pei isn’t the type of guy you let get away. He was responsible for the expansion and modernization of the Louvre in Paris. While his modernist style may have been controversial in France, it was a perfect fit for a building dedicated to the music of change. So Rock Hall board members took Pei to a number of rock concerts, giving him a sense of the music.
“What he got out of that was this incredible energy,” Thompson enthuses, explaining how Pei then turned that energy into architecture. “The focus became on the glass tent,” says Thompson. “So you could see movement and you could see people going through [the building] as you were outside.”
As for the other striking feature of the design — the plaza’s resemblance to a giant turntable when viewed aerially — was not central to Pei’s overall concept. “It is an element that was probably put in more subtly,” Thompson says.