Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but considering the fast pace at which Chinese builders have been copying architecture from around the world, does the old adage apply to the replication of entire buildings as well? That's one of the questions that author Bianca Bosker asks in her new book Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China, where she analyzes the Chinese trend of replicating structures and even entire communities that look just like their European and American counterparts. I recently had the chance to review a copy of this eye-opening exploration into duplitecture in China as well as the culture that continues to drive it forward. Read on for my thoughts.
In Original Copies, Bosker, the senior tech editor at the Huffington Post, presents a thorough analysis of the remarkable building replication phenomenon that has been happening across China. She begins to unravel the story by first identifying China’s cultural acceptance of counterfeiting and explains how traditional Chinese views reflect the idea of the replica as equal. Bosker gives examples to back up this point, citing how ancient Chinese emperors used to replicate the gardens and towns of surrounding empires as a show of power.
A few more pages in, Bosker goes on to theorize that the government (which owns the land in China) has given developers the power to replicate because the culture has encouraged the elite to show off home ownership as a form of sophistication. And it seems that the wealthy have taken the idea and run with it. Imitations of France’s Palace of Versailles have literally been duplicated dozens of times in Chinese “French Bourgeois” neighborhoods. The whole point of the verisimilitude of these 1,400 to 1,600 square meter homes is to function as a badge of social prestige.
Though certainly cerebral at times and complex in its analysis, Original Copies is still easy to read and understand. The imagery of Spanish, Italian, and German communities seemingly uprooted from their existing landscapes and transplanted in China is fascinating. These provocative photographs help illustrate Bosker’s most dramatic point that traditional Chinese culture is fading as middle-class families emulate the western culture that comes with each new faux community.
Overall, I found Original Copies to be a fascinating glimpse into an emerging trend and a must-have book for those interested in Chinese development and architecture. Just be ready for a weighty discussion supported by comments from the world’s leading architects, critics and city planners. No matter your stance on the lack of eco-consciousness and originality that many Chinese developers have demonstrated, Bosker will leave you with a better understanding of why this phenomenon is growing in China. And just to be sure your copy of the book is an original, I suggest you order it through the link below.