【Feature】Blending Cultures and Building Dreams: The Architectural Legacy of Mr. Tan Kah Kee

Posted: 2024-06-11   Visits: 10

Nestled by Furong Lake and shaded by flamboyant trees, the architectural marvels with Jiageng style stand as a testament to the wisdom of Mr. Tan Kah Kee. The architecture embodies the integration of Chinese and Western architectural styles and possesses immense historical, scientific, and artistic value. On the 150th anniversary of Mr. Tan Kah Kee’s birth, Xiamen University launched a thematic series titled “The Origins and Legacy of Xiamen University’s Jiageng Buildings”. This series provides a presentation of the architecture with Jiageng style across three campuses and XMU Malaysia, offering a description of the construction history.


As the first university founded by overseas Chinese in modern Chinese educational history, Xiamen University features not only picturesque mountain and sea views and distinctive cultural characteristics, but also a series of characteristic buildings blending Chinese and Western cultures, carrying profound historical accumulation and cultural heritage - Jiageng Buildings.


Xiamen University, Siming Campus

The Essence of Jiageng Buildings: Patriotic Spirit and Dedication to Education

China was marked by social upheaval and a complex environment in the early 20th century. Faced with severe internal and external crises, education was crucial for national development and rejuvenation. Tan recognized the importance of education and committed himself to founding a university that would nurture the pillars of the nation. In 1921, Tan invested his own resources to establish Xiamen University. Besides fostering talents for the motherland, he aimed to provide overseas Chinese youth with opportunities for further education. The selection and planning of Xiamen University’s site reflect Tan’s foresight. He chose Xiamen as the site for the university because it offered an advantageous geographical location and a rich historical and cultural heritage. Tan chose once the training ground of national hero Zheng Chenggong as the site of the university. At that time, Tan confidently stated, “There is no precedent for such an educational undertaking. With the vast number of people from Fujian and the overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia, the future development is boundless. The foundation laid for nurturing talents over a century is undoubtedly magnificent.” Tan Kah Kee, as an eminent patriot, embodied a deep connection to both his homeland and his country. His patriotic spirit and dedication to education have become the most vibrant essence of Jiageng architecture.


Blending East and West: The Distinctive Features of Jiageng Architecture

The Jiageng buildings at Xiamen University are primarily located in the Siming Campus, Zhangzhou Campus, Xiang’an Campus, and the Malaysia Campus. Tan Kah Kee emphasized the principles of economy, practicality, aesthetics, and the integration of immediate needs with long-term vision from the university’s inception, guiding the construction of Xiamen University’s facilities. The architectural complex is arranged in a linear fashion with the main building exhibiting traditional Chinese style and the auxiliary buildings showcasing Western style. They feature the traditional red brick characteristics of Minnan residences alongside evident Western stylistic elements.


1.     One Main, Four Auxiliaries: A Harmonious Architectural Layout

The Qunxian Building Complex was the first group of buildings constructed during the establishment of Xiamen University, symbolizing “the gathering of talents”. This complex is centered around the expansive Yanwu ground, with five buildings arranged in a linear Chinese character “one” shape. The central Qunxian Building serves as the main building, connected to Tong’an, Jimei, Yingxue, and Nangying Buildings by four corridors, forming the earliest “one main, four auxiliary” building complex at Xiamen University. This “one” shape design seamlessly integrates with the natural terrain, aligning with two mountains and a harbor, creating a grand and orderly formation. The Jian’nan and Furong Building complexes constructed in the 1950s also followed this layout. The Jiageng Building Complex, designed by the Xiamen University Architecture Department, was completed in 2001. This complex is located in the center of the Siming Campus, facing Jiageng Square and Furong Lake, and unfolds linearly along a north-south axis. The subsequent construction of the Zhangzhou Campus, Xiang’an Campus, and the Malaysia Campus has continued the “one main, four auxiliary” axial symmetrical layout, combining tradition with innovation and allowing Jiageng style architecture to shine in the new era.


The Qunxian Building Complex

2.     Fusion of East and West: The Artistic Integration of the Jiageng Style

The Jiageng buildings at Xiamen University, constructed under the influence of the “Modern Architectural Movement”, are characterized by their combination of Chinese and Western elements. These buildings ingeniously blend Western architectural elements with the essence of traditional Chinese culture. The typical Jiageng style is described as “wearing a Western suit and a Chinese bamboo hat”, where the roofs feature the grand “palace-style” design of southern Fujian, and the building bodies are made primarily of brick and stone with Western-style designs such as colonnades, arches, and domes, creating a unique visual impact.The bodies of Jiageng buildings adopt a construction method where walls also bear the weight of the roof. The walls are primarily built with brick and stone. The facades, door and window pillars, and wall columns exhibit a strong Western influence. The corners of the buildings feature granite quoins, creatively combining Western quoin techniques with local brick and stone culture, prominently applied in structures like the Furong and Jian’nan buildings.

3.     Pragmatic Approach to Campus Construction: Economical and Practical Building

From the inception to the completion of school construction, Tan advocated the concept of “economical and practical construction”. The construction of the Furong building complex in the 1950s fully embodies his philosophy. Its external corridor design facilitates ventilation and lighting, providing students and faculty with better and more sanitary living conditions conducive to learning. The Jiageng buildings at Xiamen University have also experienced the difficulties of the early founding period - the flames of war during the resistance against Japanese aggression, the new life after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the vigorous development after the reform and opening up, and the new brilliance of the new journey in the new era. Within the three campuses and one branch of Xiamen University, the campus architecture, both retro and modern at different times, has enriched and developed the Jiageng style, while also leading regional architectural culture and social progress, coordinating development, and promoting harmony and unity. Many century-old Jiageng buildings are still used as places for learning, work, and living.


The Furong Building Complex