Derivative or Copy? Part I

David Tritt reviews architecture that looks strikingly similar, as highlighted on Stewart Hicks' youtube video.

In his YouTube video WHEN ARCHITECTS COPY, Stewart Hicks, Professor of Architecture at the University of Illinois, Chicago campus, asks the question, “Derivative or copy?”  Hicks seems to think it is ok to copy, especially when it is honestly fake, like most of Las Vegas.  He lists several examples as a bit of contemporary history on the subject.  In Part II of this blog entry, I will highlight some of my own. I am also considering writing a Part III to explore inspiration verses iteration at length.

Hicks also references others in the arts who do the same, Quentin Tarantino, for instance references constantly to movies of the past in his own work.  It is a part of Tarantino’s trademark and he is pretty transparent about it.  And it has served him well.  Not so well for David Childs it seems, in that there is a lawsuit from a former student of his at IIT that alleges Childs ripped off his student work in his design for the new World Trade Center Tower:

The embedded caption is a comment from Professor Hicks.

Hicks points out in the video that back in the day the Beaux Arts movement taught architecture through the method of imitation by copying, literally, the architecture of the classical past.  And the grinding of their own India ink with an inkstick.  Getting in the spirit of things, I did this as well my freshman year of architecture school.

Other examples from the video include a direct copy in Zhengzhou, China, of Corbu’s 1955 Chapel at Ronchamp (left),which now is a BBQ restaurant:

Just as literal, although done with a bit more intellectual punch, are two projects by the Australian firm ARM.  The first is the house Robert Venturi designed for his mother Vanna in Philadelphia back in the 1960’s that was “copied” in a distorted kind of way for the design of the Howard Kronberg Medical Center. What the architects did was to slide a black and white copy of the front façade of the house across a Xerox machine, and to build the distorted image that came out:

The next step, as mentioned above, was to build, imperfections and all what appeared in the copy, whatever that was.  As a consequence the front façade of the new medical center is seen in the left hand photo below:

ARM did not stop there.  Their next foray into this type of image making was to copy a darkened Villa Savoye as an attachment to the rear lake side of the new Aboriginal history museum (the AISTSIS) outside of Canberra:

Corbu’s Villa Savoye, 1931 (above) and ARM’s Aboriginal museum (below)

Above is the front portion of the museum complex with an explanation from ARM as to the “inversion concept” behind the architecture. It has something to do with perceived attitudes toward Aboriginal culture, but I must admit that it is somewhat elusive.  It might be better explained by the architect, Howard Raggatt (the R in ARM), in the short film DOUBLENEGATIVE (get it?) if one is interested further.

Also mentioned in the video is the derivative version of Villa Savoye done by Rem Koolhaas in Paris, shown below on the right.  I must mention here that Villa Savoye (left below) is one my personal all-time great pieces of architecture, and that Rem did a magnificent job of reinterpreting its visual essence in the Villa Dall’Ava:

The original Villa Savoye (left) and Villa Dall’Ava by Rem Koolhaas (right).

There are a couple more that Stewart Hicks mentions: a not so great Fallingwater lookalike and a truly impressive Eiffel tower in Shenzhen, China:

The Fallingwater House copy (left) and Wright's real thing (right).
Shenzhen Copy (left) and the real Eiffel Tower (right).

Hick’s YouTube video got my wheels turning and I remembered several “derivative or copy?” examples that I have encountered which I will review in Part II.

Blog Post written by David Tritt, Senior Architect.

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