Famed architect I.M. Pei designed ‘work of genius’ in downtown Dayton

Famed architect I.M. Pei, best known for designing the iconic glass pyramid at the entrance of the Louvre in Paris, died last week at age 102.

While Pei created stunning structures around the globe, he and his partners also designed a building in downtown Dayton – the former PNC Bank building at Third and Main streets across from the Old Court House.

Pei’s new building was built on the site of the former Gem City Savings building, which was topped by the beloved downtown landmark, the Gem City clock. “We’ll make a new attraction and they’ll soon forget about the clock,” Pei told the Dayton Daily News in 1978.

The angular, eye-catching, $17 million attraction was known as the Gem City Building when it opened in the spring of 1981. It would be a joint headquarters for Gem City Savings and Home Savings and Loan.


“Here is a case of two organizations coming together to create an outstanding building for the city,” Pei said as he unveiled a model of the structure during a visit to Dayton.

“Gem Plaza was designed to extend Courthouse Square across Main Street, pulling one into the building courtyard and beyond, into a glass-enclosed, greenery-filled atrium, which will be topped by a gem-like glass pyramid surrounded by smaller glass pyramids.”

Pei promised that when people looked toward the Mead Tower (now the Key Bank Tower) from his glassed-in atrium they would experience a “vertical spatial explosion.”

Along with his partner, James Freed, Pei designed the Gem City side of the building with curves and the flat and sharply angled left side for Home Savings and Loan.

The two sides are tied together at the center by a dramatic seven-story glass-topped atrium. The large glass pyramid was accompanied by eight small tetrahedrons, or triangular pyramids, when completed. Diagonal bridges cross the atrium at the fourth and sixth floors.

The building opened to great acclaim and Journal-Herald columnist Walt McCaslin described it as a “tour deforce that’s hard to come by. It’s indisputably a work of genius.”

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