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Sunday, December 3, 2023

Building History with Blocks: A Millennial Couple’s Artistic Journey

CultureArtBuilding History with Blocks: A Millennial Couple's Artistic Journey

In an artistic endeavor merging tradition with modernity, Jiang Buting and Chen Xi, a millennial couple, have painstakingly recreated 18 iconic landmarks along Beijing’s Central Axis using over 130,000 building blocks. This impressive 16-meter-long panoramic model is not just a feat of detailed craftsmanship but also a cultural statement aiming to support the UNESCO World Heritage status bid for the Beijing Central Axis.

Building blocks, universally recognized for their recreational value, became the couple’s medium of choice for their unique approach to cultural preservation. According to Jiang, they see building blocks as a borderless language of art, offering a fresh perspective on safeguarding intangible cultural heritage. This project was not merely about constructing models; it was about using a universally beloved medium to showcase and spread the allure of traditional Chinese culture globally.

Their journey was documented and shared on Bilibili, a video-sharing platform, drawing widespread admiration from netizens. However, the process behind these creations was far from simple. The couple first utilized computer-aided design (CAD) software to transform survey maps into three-dimensional models. They then meticulously converted these models into virtual building-block structures, generating a list of tens of thousands of parts required for physical assembly.

One of the significant challenges they faced was using fixed-shape blocks to capture the spiritual essence of traditional Chinese architecture. Jiang elaborated on their creative solutions, such as using white ice cream-shaped parts for pillars and black banana parts for roof overhangs. Their commitment to authenticity extended to the construction logic of ancient Chinese buildings. For instance, in replicating the Jiaolou, they chose not to add a supporting pillar inside, adhering to the building’s original architectural logic.

Their portfolio of building-block projects is diverse and impressive, encompassing China’s aerospace aviation series, Tsinghua University’s centennial celebration buildings, Big Air Shougang, the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics venue, and numerous other animation and novel-themed builds.

An integral part of their artistic process involves extensive historical research. For example, in recreating the ruins of Yuanmingyuan, they delved into historical records to accurately portray the scene. Their models are not just static displays but vibrant landscapes bustling with people, showcasing the intricate relationship between architecture and everyday life.

Beyond historical landmarks, the couple has also used building blocks to recreate significant cultural moments. For the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative, they built a model of Zheng He’s ship, and in 2022, they recreated a pavilion from the essay “Zuiwengting Ji” by Ouyang Xiu. These models included fishermen, woodsmen, farmers, and chess players, bringing the scenes to life.

Looking ahead, Jiang and Chen plan to recreate the utopian landscape from Tao Yuanming’s “The Peach Blossom Spring Story,” continuing their mission to make ancient Chinese architecture accessible and engaging for a broader audience. Through their work, they aim to turn cultural dissemination into a communal activity, inviting more people to co-create and spread Chinese culture in a uniquely interactive and imaginative way. Their innovative approach to cultural preservation using building blocks is a testament to the power of creativity in bridging the past and the present.


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