Don’t Innovate: Imitate!

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Venice Water Town near Hangzhou, China

If you visit the Tianducheng housing complex near Hangzhou, you’ll see the Eiffel Tower. Hangzhou also has a miniature Venice, and Chengdu a “British Town” modelled on Dorchester, England. These are not isolated examples of the eccentricity of the newly affluent:

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.’ (“Why We Shouldn’t Mock the Idea of an Eiffel Tower in Hangzhou”)

They are part of a massive trend in China that Bianca Bosker(1) calls “duplitecture”:

While the centers of Chinese Cities now flaunt cutting-edge style, engineering, and technology, the suburbs and satellite townships are giving way to an entirely different breed of architecture: not innovative but imitative and backward-looking

(…)

The target of the replication program goes beyond architecture and construction techniques. IN fact, the agenda is all-encompasing: to re-create not only the superficial appearance of Western historical cities, but also the “feel”the atmospheric and experiential local colorof the originals

original-copies british town
“British Town” modeled after Dorchester, England, in Chengdu, China

Architectural mimicry is neither new nor unique, but China’s building boom makes it unprecedented in size. According to Bianca, the uses to which mimicry has been put through history satisfy a specific set of symbolic and pragmatic agendas and are symptomatic of shifts in the deep structure of a given society.

What does China want?

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(1) Bianca Bosker, “Original Copies”

Nagib-Karsan-NK5-6HQFeatured Image: Nagib KARSAN Numero 192, Venice 

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