Although China is often glibly dismissed as little more than an imitator of others, yet another story about copying paradoxically shows it leading the way. That's because what's being cloned is an entire building complex that's still under construction:
The project being pirated is the Wangjing SOHO, a complex of three towers that resemble curved sails, sculpted in stone and etched with wave-like aluminum bands, that appear to swim across the surface of the Earth when viewed from the air.
As the article in Der Spiegel quoted above notes, this isn't the first time that buildings have been copied by Chinese architects:
Zhang Xin, the billionaire property developer who heads SOHO China and commissioned [the famous architect Zaha] Hadid to design the complex, lashed out against the pirates during the Galaxy opening: "Even as we build one of Zaha's projects, it is being replicated in Chongqing," a megacity near the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau. At this point in time, she added, the pirates of Chongqing are building faster than SOHO. The original is set for completion in 2014.
Last year, citizens of the Austrian hillside hamlet of Hallstatt were shocked when they inadvertently discovered Chinese architects had surreptitiously and extensively photographed their homes and were building a doppelgänger version of the UNESCO World Heritage site in southern China.
But here, as with the latest case, it's hard to see what the problem is. Nobody is mistaking these pirated versions for the originals: the use of photographs in the case of Hallstatt, and "digital files or renderings" in the case of the Wangjing SOHO, means that the results will only be approximate copies, lacking many key details that make the originals artistically notable. If anything, their existence will encourage visitors to seek out the real thing to find out what inspired this massive effort. After all, if somebody goes to the trouble of constructing copies of entire buildings in this way, they must think pretty highly of the original.
What's significant here is that this building piracy can be seen as part of a new trend -- the rise of a high-speed cut-and-paste approach to urban design based around architectural mashups:
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."
Fortunately, the architect of the cloned Wangjing SOHO seems to agree:
Zaha Hadid said she has a philosophical stance on the replication of her designs: If future generations of these cloned buildings display innovative mutations, "that could be quite exciting."
Not only that: these pirate mutations will boost her already-considerable reputation in China yet further, and enrich her artistic legacy.
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