Where do newly affluent Chinese want to live? In buildings modeled on the White House, Austrian villages and English towns. Bianca Bosker, Qingyun Ma and Marissa Gluck discuss copycat culture in China, from cell phones to cities; plus, Jason Groman and Barbara Bestor on nostalgia for Palm Springs Modernism and a new attitude in architectural photography.
Copycat Architecture in Contemporary China
The term “contemporary Chinese architecture” conjures up imagery of hyper-modern steel-and-glass showpieces like the CCTV building designed by Rem Koolhaas or the Bird’s Nest constructed for the 2008 Summer Olympics. But, for patrons who can afford it, a very different kind of new architecture is currently being constructed in China—buildings that look like they were transplanted from a Parisian arrondissement or an Austrian village.
Bianca Bosker, Executive Tech Editor for Huffington Post, spent time in China researching the country’s architectural nostalgia and has just published a book about her findings entitled Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China, which explores this concept of “duplitecture.”
The copying mania in China is not embraced by all architects there. Some, like last year’s Pritzker Prize winner Wang Shu, are on a quest to create buildings that draw on Chinese traditions while being unabashedly modern. That’s according to Qingyun Ma, head of USC’s architecture school, who explains the dilemma the copycat architecture presents to the Chinese intelligentsia.
But it’s not just traditional architecture that’s being copied. In Chongqing, a knock-off of a Beijing building designed by Zaha Hadid is actually being built faster than the original. And, in one of the more famous examples of Chinese copying, Apple found that its stores and branding had been duplicated so convincingly in China that people working in the fake stores thought they were Apple employees. In a bid to try and thwart this kind of copying both at home and overseas, Apple has managed to trademark the design of its stores. The trademark includes “a clear glass storefront surrounded by a paneled facade” and, within the store, an “oblong table with stools… set below video screens flush mounted on the back wall.” Marissa Gluck follows piracy issues as an advisor to new media and design companies and explains the difference between trademark and copyright protection.
Modernism in the Desert and a New Narrative for L.A.’s Buildings
California’s Modernist architecture might be L.A.’s most famous export and one of the movement’s largest celebrations, Palm Springs Modernism Week, happens right here in our own backyard. For two weeks, hundreds of design enthusiasts descend upon the desert city for parties, panels, tours, a trade show, and lots of gawking at gorgeous homes. The event kicked off last weekend and one of those in attendance was Jason Groman, KCRW’s utility guy, composer of DnA’s theme tune, and an ardent preservationist—with the added pedigree of being the nephew of noted Modernist architect Donald Wexler.
After arriving in Palm Springs in his 1964 Chrysler Newport, his first stop was a party at the clean-lined home of Ol’ Blue Eyes—Frank Sinatra’s house, designed in 1947 by E. Stewart Williams. While there, he ran into Jacques Caussin, Chairman, Palm Springs Modernism Week, and the man who has taken this show from a tiny event 12 years ago to the 11-day extravaganza it is today. The party is still raging: Frances will join Jason in Palm Springs this weekend, where she’ll interview the musician Moby (a recent guest on this show) about his passion for Modernism; and Jason will talk to his uncle, Donald Wexler, in an interview we’ll podcast later.
The Role of the Photographer in Shaping Perception of Buildings
The romance with midcentury Modern architecture results, in part, from the way the buildings and their occupants were portrayed by photographers of the period, most famously Julius Shulman and his sleek, glamorous, effortlessly cool style. Now photography is telling a different story about buildings, says LA architect Barbara Bestor, who also happens to be executive director of the Julius Shulman Institute at Woodbury University. What makes these new photographers work different, says Bestor, is an interest in the messy context of buildings, as in the work of Iwan Baan, Richard Barnes and Catherine Opie.
All three have work on show in LA this month: the work of Iwan Baan opens this Wednesday evening at Perry Rubenstein; Richard Barnes has a piece on display at LACMA; this Saturday, Regen Projects will open a show of Catherine Opie’s photographs and she is also exhibiting right now at Woodbury’s own WUHO gallery, on Hollywood Boulevard. To hear more about contemporary photographers of the built environment, catch a longer interview with Barbara Bestor here on the DnA web site.
Right: Iwan Baan, Guangzhou #1, 2010, Digital C-Print, 36 x 54 inches, (91.4 x 137.2 cm), Edition of 6 + 2 APs. Image courtesy of the artist and Perry Rubenstein Gallery, Los Angeles. © Iwan Baan