Pei designed the museum by integrating traditional and modern design. He chose to use a black and white color palette keeping in with the old pattern of the city. Used materials add a modern flair to this traditional approach.
Glass is incorporated into the roof, a steel structure replaces the traditional wooden beam and rafter framework, and “Chinese black” granite roof tiles replace the traditional brick tiles. This use distinguishes the Suzhou Museum from other buildings.
The museum is placed between courtyards to harmonize the building with its surroundings. Pei designed a central courtyard and several smaller inner courtyards to complete the structure of the museum.
The main courtyard is a landscape garden surrounded by the museum on the east, west and south sides.
The north side of the courtyard is next to the Humble Administrator’s Garden, the largest of Suzhou’s classical gardens.
The main courtyard has been described as the most elaborately designed courtyard of the museum and features pebbled pools, straight and winding bridges, octagonal pavilions and a bamboo forest.