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China Imposes Ban on “Copycat” Architecture

The Chinese government will prohibit future public architecture that “plagiarizes, imitates, and copycats” existing designs, like the replica of the Eiffel Tower in Zhejiang province.

Bird-eye view of Tianducheng (via Wikimedia Commons)

In a statement released on April 27, the Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban Development issued strict prohibitions on public architecture that “plagiarizes, imitates, and copycats” existing designs, reported the BBC. The country’s government says that buildings “reveal a city’s culture,” and that copies should be avoided in favor of fresh designs.

According to the Architect’s Newspaper, the trend of erecting lookalike or knockoff structures in China first gained steam in the 1990s with a replica of Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp Chapel in Zhengzhou. The chapel has since been demolished, but numerous other examples of copied foreign designs remain, their appeal based on the possibility of touring global landmarks without leaving the country. The world’s second largest replica of the Eiffel Tower, for instance, can be found in Tianducheng in the city of Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, along with French neoclassical-style buildings and even its very own Arc de Triomphe. (The largest replica of the Eiffel Tower resides in the US, in Las Vegas.)

But now, the Chinese government will attempt to reverse the tradition of “copycat” architecture. The Ministry’s guidelines highlight sports stadiums, exhibition centers, museums, and other sizable, culturally-relevant buildings among the structures where original designs will be encouraged in order to “strengthen cultural confidence, show a city’s features, exhibit the contemporary spirit, and display the Chinese characteristics,” according to the statement.

It will also restrict the construction of skyscrapers, imposing a maximum height of 500 meters (~1640 feet). (For context, the One World Trade Center in New York, the tallest building in the US, is 1,776 feet high. According to ArchDaily, it is the sixth tallest structure in the world.) New skyscrapers in China should also meet fire protection, earthquake resistance, and energy saving guidelines.

According to the Architect’s Newspaper, the newly-released policies have been met with praise on social media. Some Chinese architects and urban planners have long emphasized the need for the nation’s buildings to reflect its rich architectural history.

“China has some cities, traditional cities, with a long history,” said Ma Yansong, who heads the Beijing-based architecture firm MAD, in a 2017 interview with Dezeen. “They are so beautiful and they were planned so smartly. I call them gardens on the city scale. For example, Beijing has mountains, waters, lakes, bridges, towers. It was a very poetic city.”

“How can this traditional philosophy — which I think is very advanced — transform future cities?” he asked. “I think that leads us to a new route, besides the western typology.”

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