In Chinese, there’s a contemporary slang term, shanzhai, which refers to imitated or pirated brands or goods like fake purses and DVDs (or even books) that are a little too cheap to be real. Shanzhai culture has gone one step farther with a copy version of architect Zaha Hadid’s curvaceous new commercial complex in Beijing under construction by “pirate” architects, reports Der Spiegel.
Hadid’s Beijing complex was commissioned by SOHO, a massive real-estate development company behind an eponymous series of shopping center and office parks that dot the city. The SOHO centers are undeniably stylish architecture — one of them, near Beijing’s Sanlitun neighborhood, is a futuristic clutch of curvy vertical towers designed by Kengo Kuma. Hadid’s finished complex would provide another notch on SOHO’s record.
If she gets a chance to complete it uninterrupted, that is. A replica version of Hadid’s design, possibly pulled from stolen plans, is now under construction in Chongqing, in western China near Tibet. Hadid is now racing the pirate architects, who are actually building the copycat structure faster than the original, which is set for completion in 2014.
Though it’s not such a consumable product as a piece of clothing or a movie, a building is just as copyrightable, and it’s just as illegal to copy it, as difficult as that might be. But going to court might not even solve SOHO’s problem. It’s a little harder to confiscate an entire architectural structure than a store-full of James Bond discs. “Even if the judge rules in favor of SOHO, the court will not force the defendant to pull the building down,” explained Shanghai-based copyright lawyer You Yunting. “But it could order the payment of compensation.”
China is no stranger to architectural knock-offs. The country built an entire replica of the Austrian alpine chalet village of Hallstatt around an artificial lake in the city of Huizhou. Posing as tourists, Chinese agents visited the town over a period of years and photographed each and every building for copying. But even that’s nothing compared to Dubai, where a developed copied the entire world in a batch of luxury island residences. I guess that design’s not copyrighted, though.