Photo: Liang Hu
Leyi Zhang
Photo: Leyi Zhang

Beginning in March 2023, the Yale School of Architecture (YSoA) and the Yale Alumni Academy established a groundbreaking collaboration, offering an exceptional post-graduation travel experience to architecture graduates from the classes of 2021 and 2022. Participants embarked on immersive journeys with YSoA faculty to witness exemplary architecture. These opportunities included visiting Morocco in March with Senior Critic and Director of the Yale Urban Design Workshop Andrei Harwell, a return to Morocco in April with Professor Elihu Rubin, France in June led by Professor Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen, and Mexico in July with Assistant Professor Ana Maria Duran Calisto. Among those eager to explore the world of design and creativity was Leyi Zhang ’21 MArch. In this account, Zhang recalls her unforgettable expedition to Morocco.

Until my flight landed safely and my phone started to buzz again, I couldn’t believe that I had already returned from my trip to Morocco. Everything feels so unreal like I did not just fight through a bargaining battle for the instrument on my back in Marrakech a couple of hours ago.  

The trip was coordinated by the Yale Alumni Academy on behalf of the Yale School of Architecture because the school felt it was important to provide students who missed educational travel during the pandemic opportunities to experience architecture in situ within an academic conversation. For the 9 days my classmates and I were on the road, we squeezed everything we could possibly think of into our schedule and traveled the entire country. Thankfully, we had great instructors along our side, guiding us step by step from cities to the wild.

Blue city
Photo: Leyi Zhang

Morocco is different from any place I’ve lived. It’s so strange, because it’s full of contrasts. We visited modern architecture that celebrates space and fashion the same day we traveled through the Medina, the old city streets like a labyrinth, so narrow that only one person can pass at a time. We saw a city that’s been painted entirely blue. But when we stepped inside, we saw so many more colors from the carpets on the wall, the copperware hanging on the ceiling, the paints, and the spices. The blue quickly disappeared into the bottom of my eyes. We saw Hassan II Mosque, standing on a projected land and looking at the ocean. It is so magnificent that when the early morning sun shone, I thought I saw its shadow covering the entire city behind it, like a king with his cape. We saw Berber families outside of the desert, who are indigenous to this land. They opened their doors to strangers like us and shared their lives. We saw a desert that used to be part of the sea. We saw animals that are now part of the rock.

Crop field
Photo: Leyi Zhang

I recalled that we were asked what the best part of the trip was and almost every spot was taken. But weirdly my favorite moment was not planned. We were on the road for hours that day and everyone was hot and exhausted. We stopped for a break so people can stretch their legs. And there it is. The landscape in front of my eyes. The crop fields with different tones of green and yellow were groomed like fabric stitched together on a carpet. Breezes from far touched the tips of the crops and then touched our cheeks. The giant fields extended from the bottom of my sight to the foot of the mountain with small trees sprinkled like tiny cotton balls. And on the other side of the mountain, it is the desert.

Yalies in Morocco
Photo: Caroline Kraska

The desert was probably the place that had the most contrasts. It was hot and cold, full and empty, hard and soft, steady and dynamic, full of sounds and so quiet that I want to whisper. Couldn’t miss the chance to observe the moving stars, so I slept in the sand that night. I felt the sand slipping through my fingers, singing in the wind. I dreamt that I was floating in the Milky Way.

I’m back to my mundane life. But there was a force in Morocco that had possessed me and brought me back every now and then. I went back to that place by touching the rocks I found, stepping on the carpet I bought, playing the instruments I carried home; by writing these words:

Pigment powder in Morocco
Photo: Leyi Zhang

The tiles.
The bells.
The prayers.

The colors.
The saturated colors.

The pink clay.
The pink ruined city.

The blue paint.
The blue city with its colorful crowds.

The narrowness.
The narrowness in between shops and people’s homes.
The narrowness that makes every voice louder.  

The open space.
The open city plaza during the day.
The open fields along the highway that roll into the sky.

The air.
The hot and cool air.
The air that lets the sun beam through.

The heat.
The heat from the tagine on the table.
The heat from the mint tea.

The movements.
The movements of the Nomads and their sheep.
The movements of women’s fingers on the loom.

The rocks.
The rocks that were sliced by a river.
The rocks that were on the bottom of the desert.

The desert.
The nonstop desert.

The desert.