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Architect I. M. Pei
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Location Boulder, Colorado   map
Date 1961 to 1967   timeline
Building Type research center
 Construction System concrete
Climate cold temperate
Context rural mountains
Style Modern
Notes Abstracted, blocky, forms evocative of the rugged Southwestern U.S. landscape.






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Plan Drawing

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Discussion National Center for Atmospheric Research Commentary

"The National Center for Atmospheric Research [is] on a small plateau at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, near Boulder, Colorado... Whereas S.O.M., in the Air Force Academy, met the tremendous scale of nature with a shimmering, reflective expanse of glass, Pei has returned to the elemental forms of sheer walls of unfinished concrete of a dark reddish-brown aggregate to match the color of the mountains. Research facilities for five hundred scientists, adjoining common-use facilities across a terraced plaza, are grouped in towers of offices and laboratories to ensure a degree of privacy for individual research groups."

— from Paul Heyer. Architects on Architecture: New Directions in America. p322.

"...Conceived as a concentrated cluster of buildings in the more classically 'contained' sense, impinging minimally on the vegetation and topography of their mesa site at the edge of the Rockies, it too is attentive to site in that it is almost an element of urbanity delicately lowered into nature, yet, like the previous project, monumental in presence while not axially monumental in concept. The crisp and angular masses of bold pinkish-brown concrete forms, resembling in color the backdrop of rocks, grow out of the mesa and its defining slopes. The forms are cut apart by vertical strips of gray tinted glass and sculpturally capped by concrete hoods and louvres, which act as sculptural accents in the overall upward thrust of the scaleless vertical wall planes...."

— from Paul Heyer. American Architecture: Ideas and Ideologies in the Late Twentieth Century. p115.

The Creator's Words

"We are increasingly building for a transient society. The majority of buildings in our communities are impersonal in nature and should in my opinion be so expressed. This is not to say that a church, a museum, or a city hall should all look alike. On the contrary, this uniqueness of design called for by their uniqueness of function is made all the more significant when not competing with unique apartment houses, unique office buildings, unique garages, and unique buildings everywhere. A city of prima donna buildings is a chaotic city aesthetically! This was brought about, I believe, when we lost the traditional hierarchy of values in our cities. In the Middle Ages the focus was the cathedral; one hundred years ago, the city hall; today, anything and everything!"

— I.M. Pei. from Paul Heyer. Architects on Architecture: New Directions in America. p317-318.

"You just cannot compete with the scale of the Rockies. So we tried to make a building that was without the conventional scale you get from recognizable floor heights—as in those monolithic structures that still survive from the cliff-dwelling Indians."

— I.M. Pei. from Paul Heyer. American Architecture: Ideas and Ideologies in the Late Twentieth Century. p115.

Sources on National Center for Atmospheric Research

Howard Davis. Slides from photographer's collection. PCD.2260.1012.1702.090 PCD.2260.1012.1702.089 PCD.2260.1012.1702.088 PCD.2260.1012.1702.087 PCD.2260.1012.1702.086 PCD.2260.1012.1702.084, Photo Retouched, 9 Feb 92, LAM: light pole removed from front of building.

Sir Banister Fletcher. Sir Banister Fletcher's A History of Architecture. 18th or 19th ed., revised by J.C. Palmes. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1975. ISBN 684-14207-4. NA200.F63. p1429. — The classic text of architectural history. Expanded 1996 edition available at

Yukio Futagawa, ed. I.M. Pei & Partners: National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado, and Araldo Cossutta Christian Science Church Center, Boston, Massachusetts. Tokyo: A.D.A. Edita Tokyo, 1976. plan, p43. site plan, p42.

Paul Heyer. Architects on Architecture: New Directions in America. New York: Walker and Company, 1966. LC 66-22504. discussion p317-318, 322.

Paul Heyer. American Architecture: Ideas and Ideologies in the Late Twentieth Century. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1993. ISBN 0-442-01328-0. LC 92-18415. NA2750.H48 1993. discussion, p115.

Johnson Architectural Images. Copyrighted slides in the Artifice Collection.

William S. Saunders. Modern Architecture—Photographs by Ezra Stoller. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Publishers, 1990. ISBN 0-8109-3816-2. exterior photo, p142, 143. — A wonderful & inspiring book of beautiful photographs by the master of architectural photography. available at

Kevin Matthews. The Great Buildings Collection on CD-ROM. Artifice, 2001. ISBN 0-9667098-4-5.— Available at  Find books about National Center for Atmospheric Research


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