For tourists who travel to China, one thing they may find is the incredible array of designer goods. But caveat emptor!
China is also the land of the knock-off: knock-off designer handbags, knock-off blockbuster movies on DVDs, etc. But now, it seems the knock-off has gone off the charts in terms of proportion: entire buildings.
The Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid unveiled her designs (left in the picture above) for the Wangjing Soho complex in Beijing in 2011. It’s now under construction.
But a building that looks a lot like Hadid’s (right in the picture above) is going up in the city of Chongqing, and it may actually be finished first.
Avi Friedman is a professor of architecture at McGill University in Montreal.
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Marco Werman: For tourists who travel to China, one thing they may find is the incredible array of designer goods, but caveat emptor, China is also the land of the knockoff–knockoff designer handbags, knockoff blockbuster movies on DVDs. You get the picture. Intellectual property experts know this, but now it seems the knockoff has gone off the charts in terms of proportion in China. Ever heard of an architectural style being knocked off? Well, Zaha Hadid has. The Iraqi-British architect unveiled her designs for the Wangjing Soho complex in Beijing in 2011. It’s now under construction, but a building that looks a lot like Hadid’s is also going up in the city of Chongqing. Avi Friedman is a professor of architecture at McGill University in Montreal. He was in China three weeks ago and was invited to take a tour of Zaha Hadid’s building. Tell us first of all, Avi Friedman, what Ms. Hadid’s building actually looks like. What are some of the features she’s used in her design plans?
Avi Friedman: The building is typical of Zaha Hadid work, which are continuous amoebic-like forms stretching out too all directions. And this building looks like layers built on top of each other, creating sort of two hills that are connected to each other to form a very interesting exterior and also fascinating interior once you walk into that space.
Werman: And a similar building is going up in Chongqing. I’m looking at the pictures of Ms. Hadid’s building and the, the other one. They look pretty similar. For your eyes are the similarities too much to ignore?
Friedman: You can see that someone was inspired to a great degree by the Zaha Hadid work, but when I was in China I visited cities. I was in Beijing and Shanghai, and it is amazing how Chinese architecture is becoming almost you say, a knockoff state of similar buildings.
Werman: Would you go so far to call it copycat architecture or knockoff architecture?
Friedman: Perhaps really to get back a little bit, an installation in architecture is not new. If you were to look to history of architecture, you would see that there are many, many buildings that are inspired by notable architects, and architects like [inaudible 02:20] and even Frank Gehry. You can see them around the world and you can even make lineage, not only between the building and the copied one, but even their components. It seems to me that China crossed the line and they copy things to a greater degree, but what happened is that it is very interesting to know how architects work in China. And this is in my opinion an evolutionary step.
Werman: And how do they work in China?
Friedman: China invites top western architects to design building in them. The foreign architects are allowed only to do the concept drawings. Once the concept drawing is finished, that working drawing or the construction drawing are prepared by what they call design institutes. When you come to think about it, the foreigners are giving the entire intellectual property to the Chinese government to own these institutes in every city.
Werman: Yeah, that’s what it sounds like to me. They’re just forking over their plans once the plans are drawn up.
Friedman: That’s right.
Werman: You know, a few years ago architect Daniel Libeskind urged architects to think carefully before working in China over growing concerns that the country doesn’t really have a strong ethical record on this stuff. Is that a concern you’ve also heard from other designers and architects.
Friedman: I believe that he was right and in architecture, copyright laws hardly exist, meaning that everybody can be inspired by a shape, as long as you change a few elements in that shape. So what I consider here is really breech of creative ethics. There is no ethical, strong values in Chinese architecture that’s unfortunately trying to affect and give to this country that has very strong creative power. When I was in China, I was in Beijing, I saw work by very creative local architects. They are emerging, they are budding now, but unfortunately, they’re going to give themselves a bad name.
Werman: Professor Avi Friedman. His latest book is The Nature of Place: A Search for Authenticity. Thanks very much.
Friedman: Thank you very much for talking to me.
Werman: Judge for yourself. You can see pictures of both Zaha Hadid’s building and the alleged knockoff at theworld.org.
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