January 21, 2016 by American College of Sofia
Interview by Rumyana Mihaylova ’05
Zhanina Boyadzhieva is an ACS alumna from the Class of 2006. In 2014, she received a Master’s degree in Architecture from Harvard Graduate School of Design and presented an overview of her thesis project Collective Individuality: Reconstructing the Public Realm during the TEDxBG 2014 Conference in Sofia. We approached Zhanina with a special request: to look at ACS through the lens of her research, and tell us what she sees.
Zhani, you gave a very inspiring talk at the TEDxBG Conference in Sofia, analyzing how social, economic, and political patterns are reflected in our environment. How would you interpret the ACS campus spaces in the context of your work?
ACS is a very particular oasis within the fabric of the city. It has preserved a lens of urban thinking which was typical of 19th century Sofia – an integration of a well-designed ensemble that bridges the disciplines of architecture (consistent classical buildings), landscape architecture (the parks and gardens), and infrastructure (the paths between buildings). If you look at maps of Sofia from the 19th Century, you will see many parallels between ACS and Sofia as a whole. Of course, when it comes to the scale of the city, things are very dynamic and continuously changing. Sofia has gone through various ideologies (Socialism, Post-Socialism, etc.), which have been reflected, in its physical environment. Unfortunately, much of the thought combining these various fields into a coherent approach to design has been lost. ACS, however, has remained as a landmark and memory of this, mostly because it has been a gated island separated from external forces. I am curious how the campus would be if it was more open to the rest of the city.
If Sofia is colorful, what is the color of ACS?
I see ACS in three colors: green, blue and light beige. Green stands for all the lush gardens and parks which I have very vivid memories of. It transformed the space into a retreat for discoveries. Blue is for the open sky that was visible everywhere on campus. It made everyone aim high. Light beige is for the buildings which projected openness. Classical campuses are always featured in light colors to symbolize nobility of spirit and intellectual pursuit. Now that I think about it, the colors I was surrounded with at ACS very much influenced the kind of characteristics and personalities my friends and I value.
What provoked your interest in architecture?
I have always had a passion for arts and mathematics. While at ACS, Nia Decheva strongly encouraged me to pursue my interest in the visual arts and stimulated my curiosity in various forms of creative thinking. Simultaneously, the studies in mathematics (of which I have always been surrounded, as my father is a mathematics professor) engraved an interest in systematic thinking and organization. Somehow, my intuition of bridging these two interests led me to architecture which I later understood as a much more complex field that brought together another passion of mine – sociology.
What place do you assign to ACS in the topography of your life?
ACS gave me a jumpstart to everything I am at the moment. It stimulated me to aim high and never give up. Most importantly, it provided me with an environment of inspirational friends. Being in one place with beautiful, smart, ambitious, and compassionate minds has been a true gift.
Share with us your most precious ACS memory.
What comes to mind first is laughing loudly with my friends as we are moving in between buildings from one class to another. I think that laughter, excitement, and movement will stay with me.
Are you familiar with the new Campus Master Plan? How do you think the new Campus Center will influence our community?
I recently heard about the idea of expanding the auditorium building. I am not too familiar with the details around the design but from the few sketches I have seen, it appears to be an exciting moment for campus development. The key feature would be to preserve the same type of thinking that combines architecture, landscape architecture, and infrastructure. Analyzing scales is also crucial since ACS has always had a very humane sense to it. All campuses expand and adapt over time to new features. As long as the original notion is preserved, a sense of contemporary insertion, when done correctly, can be quite refreshing.
Tell us about your recent fascinations and most exciting aspirations.
Something that makes me quite excited is working with a small group of students from Boston Architectural College on the research and design of a Youth Center for Sports and Arts in Haiti. It is very fulfilling to share knowledge and discover possibilities for a very complicated context. It is also great to see how students’ thinking evolves from a simplistic understanding of the project as a design of a physical form to the realization that it should be thought of as a self-sustaining system bridging the gap between politics, economy, culture, construction, materials, form, etc. We are headed to Haiti in February to gather more observations before we delve into the design component.
Do you have a message for our current students?
Don’t be afraid to aim high and follow dreams – you would be surprised what happens if you only try. Value your relationships with the people that shape you – teachers, families, classmates, friends – and always be grateful for all the opportunities you are offered. Don’t be scared to test unknown grounds; the more things you try, the more you will realize who you are.
The interview was first published in December 2014 as part of the ACS Alumni Magazine.
Below Zhanina’s TEDxBG video: