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Zaha_copied in ChinaZaha Hadid’s Wangjing SOHO design (left). Chongqing Meiquan 22nd Century design (right). Image from AFP.

Earlier this year, the architecture world was in shock after a story made the rounds that a Zaha Hadid designed project in Beijing is being pirated by a developer in Chongqing. What’s surprising about this story is not the actual copying of Hadid’s design but the reaction from the design media, as if this is the first incidence of architectural piracy in China.

Of course this is not the case as building designs are routinely copied in China. However, what makes this instance unique is that while Hadid’s design (Wangjing SOHO) is still under construction, the copied version (Chongqing Meiquan 22nd Century) is set to complete first. Pan Shiyi, Board Chairman of SOHO China, Hadid’s client, has not kept quiet about his disapproval, and is now taking legal action against the developers in Chongqing. View full post »

  • Michael Grau - A word on the chinese habit of copying originals.

    Chinese Copies don’t worry me.

    I happen to be one of the people who built Soho Galaxy and Wangjing Soho. For both projects I developed software that allowed us to deal with the complex geometrical challenges involved in such projects. I witnessed how much sweat and hard work went into the designs, some of the sweat was my own. I enjoy the process of coming up with unique solutions, it’s my life. My wife is an architect too, she is mainland chinese, working a lot in Beijing and China. She refuses to copy german villages. Our daughter knows both worlds and I wonder what she learns in school.

    Here I can only speak for myself. Personally I am not worried about our buildings being so obviously copied. It’s not how I grew up but after having spent some time here I do understand. This is China, this is just how it works. People learn by imitation, people imitate what they like. Here copying is a doctrine, its even the law: to do business in china one has to collaborate with a local partner. And how many companies got burned when they found that their local partner copied the new factory with all the processes inside to build a very similar product to only his own benefit? Plus endless evergreen jokes about things feeling familiar, just minus the functionality.

    Now this is really old news and something we meanwhile should have gotten used to. Part of the process. What I do very much worry about is something slightly different, a related question. As I said the copying is a protected, man made doctrine in a centrally governed country that was a totalitarian country just a short time ago. Therefore it’s ubiquitous. Furthermore the copying has it’s roots in the culture, there will not be anything wrong with it. You copy, you learn.

    After a lot of learning comes mastership and with it originality.

    Original work set’s you apart from others, it is by defiinition outstanding and special. What sort of doctrine is in place for the arising outstanding original people who went through all the learning? I do understand that the world will be a good place when original thinking, therefore the individuum, maybe my daughter, finds a home in China too. What worries me is the thought that this transformation might not happen soon and that historic, cultural and other pressures don’t allow that great country to be as original as it needs to be to be truly impressive.

    That worries me.

    Michael Grau, LondonReplyCancel

    • geri egon - Great comments. French urb an planner in Vietnam since 12 years, we have also the same “duplicate culture..but..if copying is not a stupide or illegal work, what about one original concept ? When i say that, i am thinking about the future generation of chinese architects . It’s time for them to design their rainbow or their ’emancipated’ way. Like said Vitruve : one style, one character, one quality of construction… Just that and only..ReplyCancel

  • Adam Nathaniel Mayer - Hi Michael,

    Thanks for your comment. I agree with most of what you said, especially pertaining to copying as doctrine in China. Although to be honest I am still not sure how much of it has to do with the country’s recent history of totalitarianism vs long-held Chinese cultural characteristics. Perhaps it is a bit of both.

    One thing is for sure though: foreign companies make a “Faustian Bargain” when they chose to do business in China, trading intellectual property for cheap labor and/or access to the huge consumer market. Intellectual property transfer is the whole point behind joint-ventures. In the case of architecture, IP is even more easily transferred, as all it takes is one look at a rendering for a newly proposed building to make a copy.

    It will be interesting to see if China comes to value originality in the future. It could come sooner than we think.ReplyCancel


The widespread pirating of architectural motifs in China’s developing urban landscape is a well-documented phenomenon. From Alpine Villages to starchitect-designed superstructures, Chinese builders often seem to have no shame in copy and pasting designs originating from far away places.

This perplexing and culturally intriguing topic is the subject of a new book by Bianca Bosker, Executive Tech Editor for The Huffington Post. Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China (University of Hawaii, 2013) examines the trend of “duplitecture” in China – the construction of monumental, themed communities that replicate the cities and towns of the West, frequently drawing on historical European archetypes.

Bianca was nice enough to answer some questions to help give us a better idea of what her book is about: View full post »

BankOfChina_LightingHong Kong’s Bank of China building with its original nighttime lighting scheme (left) compared to its current one (right)

The following post was written by John Yuan, a Chinese-American architect who worked on the design of the Bank of China building in Hong Kong during his tenure as an employee of I.M. Pei’s architectural practice:

Since first returning to visit Hong Kong around the time of the handover to China in 1997, I noticed that Bank of China Tower appeared strikingly different at night during subsequent visits over the next decade. I never imagined that the exterior lighting scheme for the tower would ever be altered from the original design done by Fisher Marantz, the lighting consultant to I.M. Pei’s office on the project.

Even from the beginning of the design process, illuminating the tower at night posed great challenges. The tower stands over 300 meters tall and has an exterior covered mostly in reflective glass- characteristics which both posed difficulties for the nighttime lighting design. View full post »

The following piece appears in the new issue of the architecture journal CLOG:RENDERING

Urban Fantasies in China: Architectural Visualization

Architectural visualization specialists are the overlooked laborers involved in the vast China urban development program. They differ from architects in that they do not have design training beyond very specific knowledge of software programs such as 3D Studio Max© or the Adobe Creative Suite©. While some Chinese architecture firms employ in-house visualization specialists, most rendering work is outsourced to gigantic three-dimensional modeling studios.

Stepping into one of these studios is much like walking into a factory (one office can employ upwards of one thousand people), but instead of workers assembling widgets along conveyer belts, rows of workers hunch over their desktop computers for hours on end, producing images to be used in presentations to high-level officials or real estate marketing brochures. Just as in a factory, workers are assigned to one specific task: three-dimensional modeling, rendering (material and camera view selection) or post-production work in Adobe© Photoshop© – there is no overlap in roles. View full post »

  • msasch - too short, would have loved to hear you really go off on this. but as is a tantalizingly interesting look into that world.ReplyCancel

  • Adam Nathaniel Mayer - Sascha, unfortunately the guidelines for the journal in which this piece was included called for entries to keep to a 500-word max limit. But you are correct in that I could’ve elaborated a lot more on the subject.

    It is not all bad, in a sense: as designers we need to show our clients renderings so they can understand what they are paying for. I worked with highly skilled rendering specialists in China, but the key was in being very vigilant about what they represent in these images because without guidance they would’ve more than likely relied on too much ‘copy and paste’.ReplyCancel