Chinese take away … what if fake firms rip off architects such as Zaha Hadid, designer of Rome’s Maxxi building?

All art, Piccasso once said, is copying. The same might sometimes be said about architecture. A decade or so ago, I was on a bus heading north from Shenzen to Guangzhou in southern China when, half asleep, I looked out of the steamed-up windows and saw what seemed to be the Palace of Westminster. I asked the bus driver to stop, which he kindly did. I rubbed my eyes. It was a block of newly built concrete flats tricked up to look like Barry and Pugin’s neo-Gothic masterpiece, complete with clock tower. What I found out later, from architects in Guangzhou, was that a number of Chinese practices employed students to scan images of famous buildings, old and new, into their design software and build them afresh. The results were comic-book versions of buildings from Europe and the United States dotted across the new map of capitalist China.

Given the international nature of the most prestigious and lucrative construction projects, and the success British practices enjoy globally, such scams may well be the tip of a digital iceberg. To date, the thieves appear to have targeted large, global practices working on a wide range of commercial and infrastructure projects from hotels and office blocks to sports arenas and entire districts of new Chinese cities. But will the web pirates begin to raid British practices with a higher design profile? If Aedas and Broadway Maylan, why not Foster and Partners and Zaha Hadid?

Read more in guardian.co.uk


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