Zac Marcone completed his undergrad at Columbia University. Comparing the architecture of his undergrad college — an iconic American institution renowned for its Greek architecture — to Jingyuan, he could not help but feel that the latter reflected a distinctly Chinese aesthetic. Yet, at the same time, the architecture of Jingyuan, like Columbia, appeared to be a celebration of a broader cultural, if not civilizational, heritage.The two campus designs grounded Zac’s academic experience and provided a striking point of comparison between East and West.
Q: What role did Jingyuan play in your life on campus?
A: Jingyuan is the place where you would spend most of your time as a Yenching Scholar: attending classes, YCA events, completing administrative procedures and meeting friends. The buildings surround a beautiful courtyard where you catch up with your friends after classes. In that it forms a nice debrief space. It serves as a great place to study.
Our Yenching portraits were taken at Jingyuan, our YCA T-shirts had Jingyuan on it. Most of our time at Yenching Academy is split between Jingyuan and Shaoyuan.
A lot of times we had Chinese class at the same time in the building. Every Tuesday and Friday. At noon, after class we all congregated in the courtyard conversing about lunch options. In that moment, we were all connected with the space.
Q: What were your impressions of the architecture of Jingyuan?
A: Yenching University decided to make it reflective of the Chinese traditional architecture. They could have easily modelled conforming to the international trend. In the multi-polar world, it stands for embracing different cultural traditions.
I am from Columbia University, a school that is modeled after ancient Greek architecture. It, in a way, is a celebration of Western heritage brought back to life. Similarly, Jingyuan seems to be a celebration of "Chinese heritage."
Q: How did your experiences on campus, and at Jingyuan in particular, situate your larger experience living in Beijing?
A: The best part of Beida is that traditional Chinese architecture forms such an intrinsic part of the university landscape. It almost feels like studying in an ancient Confucian academy where Chinese scholars in historic times used to prepare for Civil Services Examination. For a history enthusiast like me, it almost feels that you are living history.
Q: In three words, how would you describe Jingyuan?
A: Beauty, scholarship and community. It is a conglomeration of all.