How important should artistic authorship be in the world of architecture? With the recent buzz in the architectural eco-chamber about Zaha Hadid’s design of her futuristic Galaxy Wangjing SOHO complex being copied and constructed in Chongqing, China — all before Hadid’s building design has even been finished has prompted everyone in the design community to reflect on the complexity of intellectual property in the profession of architecture.
Plagiarism has been in architecture’s past probably as long as the pencil has. During the Renaissance, architects tried to recreate the buildings of ancient Rome because of their beauty and most likely because they lay in ruins. It could be said that Christopher Wren’s dome of St. Paul is inconceivable without Michaelango’s dome of St. Peter’s in Rome. But the Capitol dome in Washington D.C. was inconceivable without Wren’s dome of St. Paul. Is influence the same thing as plagiarism?
Personally, the saying “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” sounds like a bad pickup line to me and a way to excuse the theft of another’s ideas. At some point everyone needs to move on from imitating their idols to emulating them. Imitation is about copying. Emulation is when imitation goes one step further, breaking through into a person’s singular, unique style.
But, the world of architecture comes with a harsh, built-in group of critics. I compare architects to fashion designers. Much like the world of fashion every season architects are expected to expose a new statement or a new line. “Running out of ideas” may be the most constant critique heard which can affect any designer’s ego and quality of work.
An insightful article in the New York Times highlights some of the many modern architectural plagiarisms. New York architect Markus Dochantschi sums it up best. “Think of Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns,” he said. “Or Cézanne and Pissarro, who quite openly responded to each other’s work. In art, that’s considered creativity, not plagiarism. If there were more of a communal sprit in architecture, people wouldn’t see this as a problem.”
And, if you don’t buy an architect’s ramblings in the Times maybe you’ll buy a little-known artist’s opinion.
“Art is theft,” said Pablo Picasso.
In the end, perceived plagiarism is affecting the way architects and artists create. The pirating of Zaha Hadid’s work raises a unique opportunity to elevate the discourse of architectural ethics. How do we protect our intellectual property while also allowing peers to be influenced by it?
About Katie: The daughter of an architect, Katie grew up doing her homework hunched over a drafting table. Over the years, she came to understand not just architecture, but architects themselves. Though she shared her father’s passion for architecture, her interests led her to public relations. As a Public Relations Specialist with Fentress Architects, she writes press releases, collaborates with journalists, editors, and publishers, and brainstorms new and ever-better ways to tell the Fentress story to the world.