What Can be Learned from China's Copycat Architecture?

A new book on the subject argues that we shouldn't be so quick to discount China's increasing instances of architectural mimicry. The practice reveals much about 'the hopes, dreams and contradictions of China's middle class.'
January 17, 2013, 2pm PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Henry Grabar discusses Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China, a new book from Bianca Bosker, a senior technology editor at the Huffington Post, on the Chinese practice of producing copies of monuments (built and unbuilt) and entire foreign towns.

"Armed with firsthand observation, field research, interviews, and a solid historical background, Bosker's book is an attempt to change the way we think about Chinese duplitecture. 'We're seeing the Chinese dream in action,' she says. 'It has to do with this ability to take control of your life. There's now this plethora of options to choose from.' That is something new in China, as is the role that private enterprise is taking in molding built environments that will respond to people's fantasies."

"While the experts scoff," says Grabar, "the people who build and inhabit these places are quite proud of them. As the saying goes, 'The way to live best is to eat Chinese food, drive an American car, and live in a British house. That's the ideal life.' The Chinese middle class is living in Orange County, Beijing, the same way you listen to reggae music or lounge in Danish furniture."

"It's a fine line between imitation and appropriation. Bosker quotes Howard French, former New York Times Shanghai Bureau Chief, who saw it like this: 'There is a very important symbolic value to this architectural movement. It is a statement of having arrived, of being rich and successful. It says 'We can pick and choose whatever we want, including owning a piece of the West. In fact, we're so rich we can own the West without even having to go there.' Not exactly the sincerest form of flattery, then."

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Published on Thursday, January 17, 2013 in The Atlantic Cities
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