Cloning buildings in China and the Photoshop vernacular

From the Spiegel, a report that Zaha Hadid Architects’ Wangjing SOHO development in Beijing is being cloned 900 miles away as Meiquan 22nd Century:

The appeal of the Pritzker Prize winner [Zaha Hadid]’s experimental architecture, especially since the unveiling of her glowing, crystalline Guangzhou Opera House two years ago, has expanded so explosively that a contingent of pirate architects and construction teams in southern China is now building a carbon copy of one of Hadid’s Beijing projects. What’s worse, Hadid said in an interview, she is now being forced to race these pirates to complete her original project first.

Wangjing SOHO

Wangjing SOHO — Zaha Hadid Architects

Sounding like something out of a William Gibson novel, it’s clear that this practice isn’t new – just that it hasn’t necessarily been attempted on this scale or at this significance before:

Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who designed Beijing’s surreal, next-generation CCTV tower, has stated the super-speed expansion of Chinese cities is producing architects who use laptops to quickly cut and paste buildings into existence. Koolhaas, in the book Mutations, calls these architects Photoshop designers: “Photoshop allows us to make collages of photographs – [and] this is the essence of [China’s] architectural and urban production… Design today becomes as easy as Photoshop, even on the scale of a city.”

The legal precedent is unclear, though China Intellectual Property magazine reports that judicial proceedings have been ongoing since September.

Meiquan 22nd Century

Meiquan 22nd Century

Is this actually a problem? The developers of Meiquan 22nd Century aren’t claiming that it’s a Zaha Hadid design, merely emulating a style – albeit seemingly fairly closely. The ‘Photoshop vernacular’ is simply an evolution of architectural trend-following and imitation which has been happening since the emergence of the earliest structures, aided by newer technology.

As Techdirt has argued at length, the fashion industry benefits hugely from copying:

Fashion relies on trends, and trends rely on copying. So you can think of copying as a turbocharger that spins the fashion cycle faster, so things come into fashion faster, they go out of fashion faster, and that makes fashion designers want to come up with something new because we want something new.

Architecture, for the most part, tends to result in more permanent artifacts, but it’d certainly be possible to argue that a cycle of imitation and iterative improvement would only benefit both the profession and the population at large.

via Matt Jones.


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