A Restoration of the 7000-year-old Mortise and Tenon Technology by 1:81 Miniature Building Block

Beijing Aiqi Technology

The creative work of historical and cultural heritage by Lead Designer Yang Zhang

After realizing the extensive use of new materials in modern society and how it has led to less use of mortise and tenon, Yang Zhang, CEO of Beijing Aiqi Technology, as well as the Lead Designer, used millennium mortise and tenon to create the Turret of Palace Museum to rescue the culture that is on the edge of discontinuation. The creation is a 1:81 miniature restoration of the architect's appearance and charm, reminding people of the masterpiece that was well-built by the great ancestors and allowing them to learn about mortise and tenon technology.

Mortise and tenon technology, the main composition method of ancient Chinese architecture, is the essence of traditional Chinese woodworking. With the encouragement of China's policies on non-heritage and traditional culture, the public is becoming more familiar with the mortise and tenon structure.

Zhang is regarded as a promoter of mortise and tenon culture. He takes the Turret of Palace Museum, which has a 600-year history, as a prototype and commits to the commercial value while boosting traditional Chinese mortise and tenon culture. Based on the millennium craftsmanship, the mortise and tenon building blocks integrate the STEAM concept and adopt the PBL project-based learning approach to inject new vitality into the traditional mortise and tenon structure. These changes made to the traditional building blocks in the form of expression are a successful breakthrough in the entire industry, setting off a cultural wave at the social level.

Zhang pointed out that the selection of the theme "Turret of Palace Museum" contains multiple factors. Located in the Forbidden City in Beijing, the Turret of Palace Museum has the most complex structure and the most beautiful shape of Chinese royal architecture. Historically, it was responsible for guarding the palace. The elaborate layout of the turret puts the design and development team led by Zhang in an unprecedented technical test. Completely different from ordinary building block toys, Zhang wants to create a model that is made of real mortise and tenon parts.

After determining the theme of the turret, Zhang and his team of joint experts conducted a lot of research, modeling, verification, modification, and production steps. Firstly, a lot of data search and field research is needed to determine the overall product design. Secondly, when modeling the design, they need to make the comprehensive layout first and then subdivide it to the specific connection between each module. The final step is completing the module design by combining these modules with modern process requirements and integrating them to check and fill in the gaps.

A large number of program modifications and corrections taking into account visual effects are made in order to restore the most realistic view of the turret. The color matching of ancient architectural products is always a difficult part. The product appearance will be seriously affected if the color is not well matched with the original architect. After going through a large number of real-world detection, Zhang settled for the electrostatic baking paint, sandblasting, and laser engraving process that are 24 times as much as the cost of ordinary raw materials injection, as a way to make the color more delicate and durable.

The entire process of design took nearly five years, with hundreds of design iterations and continuous adjustments. The final version of the Turret of Palace Museum contains 715 mortise and tenon parts with 8 different types of mortise and tenon, including dovetail, straight mortise, and tenon, reverse mortise and tenon, enterprise mouth mortise and tenon, through the pin, riding tenon, buckle tenon, T-shaped tenon.

The turret is built with variation, skill, and direction instead of just simply putting together the parts. The design created by Zhang uses real mortise and tenon for structural connection and locking. The block components and the combination are interconnected with each other, achieving complete structural locking in all three directions. The entire turret can be lifted directly after the assembly is finished, which is completely different from the in-line blocks that rely on material friction. The snap and in-line blocks seen on the market are not true mortise and tenon.

The retail sales of toys in China reached $124 billion in 2021, up 9.6% from 2020, with block toys being one of the largest categories in the toy industry. Since the release of the mortise and tenon pray for the temple by Beijing Aiqi Technology Co., Ltd. set off a trend of mortise and tenon culture in 2020, mortise and tenon blocks have become a bridge to connect the market with the traditional culture. Consumers can build their own Turret of Palace Museum to feel the attraction of the structure and culture of the turret.

Mortise and tenon technology is not only the soul of traditional Chinese culture but also a valuable heritage of the world's architectural culture, the art of which is invisibly influencing the design direction of modern architecture.