by STIRworldApr 17, 2020
A table that assembles sans screws, glue, nails or frustrated sighs – the Dougong Table created by industrial designer and multimedia artist Mian Wei is all of that and much more – minus the baffling user manual! The Boston-based designer combines minimal aesthetic with dougong, an ancient Chinese method of interlocking construction, revealing a functional and uniquely artistic design. “The inspiration for the table came from traditional Chinese architecture, where a type of wooden structure called dougong (dou gong) is used in various parts of a building,” shares Wei.
If you are wondering how a table is being built without any screws or adhesive substance, the Dougong Table is made up of modular parts that can be easily taken apart or reassembled. The bracket (拱Gong) slides into the beams (斗Dou) that makes up the weight bearing structure (the gridded wooden pieces that you see clubbed together beneath the table top). This method also retains the structural integrity of the table when it is lifted or moved.
Crafted from ash, maple and plywood, the Dougong Table’s bracket connectors were first fashioned into long beams and then sliced into smaller pieces. These brackets then slide in and lock the ashwood beams, and this repeated interlocking assembles the entire table. A maple wood panel is arranged on top of this assembly and acts as the table top, supported evenly by the interlocked members underneath. According to Wei, the result is a modern structure suitable for mass manufacturing, and could be extended and applied to future furniture and architecture.
“The project started when I was on an architectural road trip across China. There are many ancient wooden architectural relics scattered across central-northern China, particularly in Shanxi province where I spent most of my time. Buildings there have withstood the test of time but remain mostly undiscovered to the modern world,” reminisces Wei, when asked about how the process for the table’s design germinated.
These traditional timber structures built in early Chinese dynasties implement the dougong method of construction, which distributes weight evenly across a large volume, by binding the roof, girders and pillars together. Dougong then gradually deteriorated, turning into decorative architectural element as modern constructional methods and architecture became commonplace.
“I think the table’s image looks a bit puzzling at first,” chuckles Wei. “As the person builds the table, the realisation kicks in that the process of building the table shrinks the apparent complexity as the design reveals its sensible, functional nature.” The interlocking is all there is to it, no added decoration, no ornamental excess and no screws.
Wei feels that simply disguising an old design method in modern clothing is not enough. He says, “Many have tried to imitate the ancient aesthetic with wood and rivets or even concrete, but those loose visual interpretations part with its structural nature and simplicity of assembly. The structure and crafting procedure have to be redesigned and reorganised to fit modern manufacturing and at the same time, retain value, tradition, and its physicality.” Wei’s Dougong Table reduces the ancient interlocking method to its simplest, modular form, and strikes a fun balance between form, material, minimalism and tradition.
With the Dougong Table’s aesthetics and design, Wei delves into an old method of construction to “reinvestigate the practicality and scalability, and bring new life to the ancient tradition.” Emphasising cultural significance, Wei’s table (can we call it a 3D puzzle furniture?) explores art and engineering within the realms of minimal aesthetics and modern production technique.