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Duplitecture for fun and profit

Most of the commenters to this fascinating Guardian article on the many copies of famous Western buildings and bridges being built in the Chinese city of Suzhou dismiss the replicas as vulgar.

Vulgar they are. They are what you get when the some of the vulgus get rich and build what they like.

It [the explosion of urban mimicry] is also a result of housing becoming a free-market commodity. After Mao’s death, the introduction of a new economic policy, starting in 1979, opened the nation to foreign investment and restored private control over land use. Real estate investors supported by Hong Kong, Taiwanese and overseas Chinese financiers were quick to exploit the new opportunities in the booming housing market. With a rapid increase in the number of cities, a growing middle class and a desire to invest capital in property, there has been a boom in residential construction, investment and sales, coupled with a desire to demonstrate personal prestige.

30 comments to Duplitecture for fun and profit

  • Paul Marks

    I rather like copies – for example I would much rather see the Parthenon in Bavaria or in Nashville, than the ruin in Athens.

    Also I see no reason why Chinese people should travel all the way to Egypt (and great expense and risk getting killed by Islamists – although there are some of those in China to) to see the monuments (sadly some that were constructed in China are being destroyed – after protests from the Egyption government).

    Serious scholars may benefit by seeing the originals – but I see no good reason to deny ordinary people the experience of seeing faithful (life size) copies.

    As for being inspired by historical styles to create new buildings (and bridges and so on).

    Again I see nothing wrong in this – the claim that one must not build (or compose, or paint, or……) in an historical style because it is “against the spirit of the age” is just the philosophy of Hegel (and rather simplified Hegel at that).

    There is no reason why the opinions of the late Mr Hegel should bind us – in building (or anything else).

    In short if someone wants to live in a “mock Tudor” house by a Chinese river (with a full size copy of Tower Bridge at the bottom of the garden) then good for them!

  • Paul Marks

    After all if I had unlimited money and was having a home built for myself – it would (most likely) turn out looking like a medieval castle (one of the smaller ones – such as Rockingham), but with gardens by Gertrude J. (a century ago) and an interior that would either be Victorian or 18th century (most likely different rooms would be in different styles).

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Exactly – while there is a particular charm to seeing with one’s own eyes the original famous building (or, indeed, famous painting), it’s not as if making a copy causes the original to disappear in a puff of smoke.

    Most of the buildings copied are beautiful, which is why people want to build copies of them.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    if I had unlimited money and was having a home built for myself – it would (most likely) turn out looking like a medieval castle

    When my ship comes in I plan to build a manor house with an entire faked history; looking as if the west wing was added in the eighteenth century to the Tudor core or something like that. Only with modern fibre-optic whatnots and power showers and no spiders.

  • Shirley Knott

    Is the complaint that these are copies or that they are copies of famous buildings/monuments?
    I have trouble caring either way, although in my travels around the US I find that ‘notable’ new buildings in most cities are carbon copies of recent buildings in other cities. There’s far less original architecture than most believe. Far, far less.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Shirley Knott,

    The complaints in the Guardian comments mostly seem to centre around them being copies of Western famous buildings: some, though not all, of the commenters feel that the Chinese should stick to their own traditional style.

    I’m not sure if my post made it clear, but I personally have no complaint over the replicas. They are fun.

  • Dom

    It’s a missed opportunity though. The “London Bridge” in China could have been something uniquely Chinese. Consider Japanese paintings. They have a perspective that is different from the Western perspective, with distant objects (like hills) placed above nearer objects. Yes, they could have duplicated the Mona Lisa, but the job of an artist is to create, not duplicate.

  • pete

    That ‘Sydney’ bridge isn’t a patch on the Runcorn-Widnes one.

  • Ed Hearn

    Just looked up that bridge in Runcorn- it’s the best representation of a looper caterpillar I have ever seen.

  • Getting a Chinese architect to come up “Tower Bridge but with a Chinese Spin” might be more interesting than a slightly ersatz copy.

    But, at least the Chinese aren’t doing what Britain is doing and trying to turn the whole place into a museum with everything having to match what went before, something that we didn’t do in the past.

  • chuck

    Doesn’t bother me. I’m looking forward to duplicate road runner cartoons.

  • Michael Jennings

    Context, context, context. Suzhou is a big place, and overt mimicry of famous buildings from other places is only a small part of what is being built there. Most of what is being built are similar sorts of attempts at modernism to those being seen in London or elsewhere.

    The most notable recent building there is this one, popularly known at “The trousers”.

  • Michael Jennings

    Context, context, context. Suzhou is a big place, and overt mimicry of famous buildings from other places is only a small part of what is being built there. Most of what is being built are similar sorts of attempts at modernism to those being seen in London or elsewhere.

    The most notable recent building there is this one, popularly known at “The trousers”.

  • Dom

    MJ, you duplicated your comment! Clever use of subtext!

  • Rob

    I wonder what your (deeply) average Guardianista would think of a replica of a famous Chinese building in London. Rapture, I imagine.

  • Regional

    Although I’ve never been there some of the iconic structures of the world have been reproduced in Las Vegas I believe.

  • Mr Ed

    I have a Venetian soldino (a coin) from the 13th Century. I took great delight in taking it with me to its city of origin and taking pictures of it by buildings that were its contemporaries, mocking our fleeting lifespans.

    I prefer the China of this fancy to the murderous insanity of Mao, at least they are moving in a positive direction, even if it is probably a symptom of a credit bubble. Here’s a typical Guardian whinge, er… comment,

    Why on earth would they want to build a city of white elephants like these?? – and they don’t even copy them directly but add bizarre deviations.
    A combination of too much money, no planning control and very bad taste.

    He praises with faint damnation, but he knows not what he does.

  • Laird

    “no planning control”?!?! In China?? The man’s clearly an idiot, so I don’t give his “very bad taste” objection any credit.

  • Timbo

    I was responsible for a project to build a food processing plant in Suzhou in the early ’90s. It was pretty much a copy of a modern plant in the West. I must apologize if I inadvertently started this disturbing trend.

  • RAB

    I think we, in the West, should be flattered quite frankly.

  • veryretired

    Why is this any surprise at all?

    Asian cultures discovered, to their great amazement, that the west had passed them by back in the 19th century, and have been copying, adapting, and modeling various aspects of their cultures ever since on what they assumed to be successful templates from the west.

    Both the Chinese and Japanese cultures ended up removing or re-defining Imperial systems which had endured for millennia, overturning traditional aristocracies, and attempting to remodel their societies on modified western patterns.

    In various ways, most of the other Asian cultures have also gone through processes of cultural melding, with the influences varying by which western cultures had the most fundamental impact.

    We are observing, as well as inter-acting with, ancient cultures, in China especially, recapitulating the 18th and 19th centuries, and rushing through the experiences of the west in those and the 20th century, with all the turmoil that implies.

    Throw in the gruesome influences of Marxism/Stalinism along with all the cultural shocks inherent in an exposure to western industrial/technical societies, and the image that always comes to my mind is one of those paint mixers in a hardware store, vibrating maniacally to change several tones to just that special shade SWMBO wants for the remodeling project du jour.

    For over a century, we have been witnessing the cultural equivalent of a supervolcano going off in the heart of Asia, and somebody’s worried about copying buildings?

    The superficiality of our cultural obsessions never ceases to amaze.

  • Regional

    When the Wall came down and the East Germans entered West Berlin they were astounded by the abundance available under Capitalism.

  • Vinegar Joe

    Brits and other Europeans were copying Asian buildings (such as gazebos) hundreds of years ago.

  • Vinegar Joe

    And now Europeans are copying Wagyu beef!!! AND selling it at dirt cheap prices! Oh the humanity!

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2647838/Aldis-latest-lure-middle-classes-Prized-wagyu-beef-7-8oz-steak-just-quarter-standard-price.html

  • Andrew Duffin

    Natalie I am sorry to have to tell you that your new building – like all new buildings – will acquire spiders once it’s about ten years old; it seems to be an ineluctable rule. After the initial ten years pause, the spiders appear, and then slowly get larger…

  • VR’s point is an excellent one – I for one never quite thought about it in this way.

  • AndrewZ

    Getting rich is tremendously exciting, especially if it happens suddenly and nobody in your family has ever experienced anything like it before. All that nouveau riche bling that gives the establishment the vapours is a sincere expression of joy. It’s people shouting from the rooftops how great it feels to make it big and how confident they are about the future. Therefore vulgar conspicuous consumption is evidence of a dynamic economy with plenty of opportunities to make money. The universal reign of good taste and decorum is a sure sign of economic stagnation.

  • Laird

    “The universal reign of good taste and decorum is a sure sign of economic stagnation.”

    A very perceptive observation.

  • staghounds

    That trouser building is awesome and I generally despise modern constructions.

  • Phil B

    If you look at the link to the “trousers” building in Michael Jennings post, you’ll see in one of the pictures that those unspeakable, inscrutable fiendish orientals have copied The Goodies too! You can’t tell me that a three seat tandem is mere coincidence … the bar stewards!

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