Architectural ‘copycats’

 

 

 

And following the architectural theme, a post by Jonathan Glancey has caught my eye as well.  The piece, written for the Guardian, is entitled “British architects at the mercy of China’s copycats.”  Glancey expresses typical outrage at infringement of intellectual property and, in this case, outright fraud found rampant in contemporary Chinese society.  Apparently, some Chinese firms hoping to land large architectural projects often find it expedient to use the names and reputations of major British architectural firms as their own in order to obtain contracts.  When discovered, perpetrators of this clearly illegal practice simply disappear, only, no doubt, to re-emerge under a new name, equally fraudulent sometime thereafter.

Certainly, it would be difficult to defend perpetrators of such mendacious practice. What’s missing from Glancey’s piece, however, is context.  It does not take a great deal of inside or even direct knowledge about building conditions in contemporary China to realize that such fraud has its reasons.  Given the sheer volume of building, the availability of a great variety of new models (from public to private and all in between) is necessary, while the availability of established providers of such models are no doubt having a hard time keep up with demand.  This is particularly true for something as complex as the built environment, which involves utilitarian (functional) as well as aesthetic demands.  Most important, I expect, would be a concern about safety and other standards which are present but often very difficult to enforce. This is a basic feature of all rapidly developing societies, and China is simply the best example–for better and for worse–of rapid development the world has seen.  That a few architectural firms get ripped off in the process is little wonder.

Meanwhile, for each an every example of a stolen contract (if we call them that), you can be sure a fully “original” and often outlandish architectural wonder is in the works, particularly in China’s urban centers.  Perhaps the most noteworthy of late is none other than I.M. Pei’s new museum in Suzhou (images above and here). More on this later.