Renowned Architect Races Against Copycat Builders in China

To see a design come to fruition is surely an architect's greatest thrill -- but to see it reproduced twice must be mindboggling, especially if one of the constructions is entirely unsanctioned.

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Jason Lee / Reuters

A visitor prepares to take a picture of the newly opened Galaxy Soho building, designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, in Beijing October 27, 2012.

To see a design come to fruition is surely an architect’s greatest thrill — but to see it reproduced twice must be mindboggling, especially if one of the constructions is entirely unsanctioned. This is the plight currently faced by world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid. One of her designs is being realized twice in China: as planned at a construction site in the Chinese capital of Beijing, and — completely off Hadid’s accounts — at another location in Chongqing, where copycat architects are trying to complete the very same building in a “massive, open counterfeiting operation,” and in less time than the official one.

(PHOTOS: The Sinuous Vision of Zaha Hadid)

The 500,000-square-meter (5.3 million square foot) Wangjing Soho office and retail complex takes the shape of three futuristic cones reaching 200 meters (656 feet) tall and is expected to be completed by 2014. But by then, its design may be old news: the copycat architects in the central Chinese hub of Chongqing are expected to have completed their pirated version, according to Zhang Xin, the billionaire property developer who’s funding the original, told the Der Spiegel.

“It is possible that the Chongqing pirates got hold of some digital files or renderings of the project,” Satoshi Ohashi, project director for the Soho complex told the German weekly. Hadid said it could be “exciting” to see cloned copies of her projects with mutations.

(MORE: 10 Questions with Zaha Hadid)

The London-based Hadid was the first woman to receive the Pritzker Prize in 2004, the Pulitzer Prize for architects and is a much-celebrated architect in China, with 11 projects across the country. 15,000 people attended the opening of her Galaxy Soho, a similarly shaped project, in Beijing last autumn.

Though this instance of overt, blatant counterfeiting is strangely nothing new in China. A year ago, a Chinese property developer copied an entire Austrian village. Wuxi, a manufacturing hub in Eastern China, has four buildings resembling the White House. And air-conditioning tycoon Zhang Yue took the copycat phenomenon a step beyond, borrowing from across the world when he built himself a palace designed as a combination between London’s Buckingham Palace and the French royal palace of Versailles, next to an Egyptian pyramid and a statue of former General Electric CEO Jack Welsh.

MORE: Top 10 Chinese Knockoffs


the article fails to mention that a great deal of the copying is being done by foreign (western) or foreign-trained architects who due to either lack of originality or the hunger to get whatever commissions may come their way, do copious amounts of "borrowing".  these often young architects and designers are often novices who in their home countries in the West would only be good enough as interns.  

on the flip side, a lot of what is put out there by the "starchitects" doesn't hold much water beyond being eyewash.  a lot of development in China is also suspect and main remain unoccupied - "fake projects" whose sole purpose is to fatten the wallets of developers and officials.  so within that context, what's a little borrowing?


I hope Hadid succeeds in court. US copyright laws protect architects' drawings to prevent this, not sure how much Chinese law does.


Half of the current redevelopment of China is based on US cities. Amusing.  What's the world coming to? Innovation over immitation I say.

I start my walk from Beijing to London this year...Should be fun!

- Regards, Michael Lee Johnson