Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China
June 9, 2013 7:43 PM   Subscribe

One of the most striking features about daily life in China is how much of what one encounters has been appropriated from elsewhere. It’s not just the fake iPhones or luxury watches . . . . Above all are the physical spaces. . . . New architecture, when it is notable, is nearly always by foreigners or copying foreign styles, a tendency that has led Western architects to flood into China, often with second-rate projects for sale. . . . These are not just individual buildings but entire streetscapes, with cobblestone alleys, faux churches (often used as concert halls), towers, and landscaping designed to reproduce the feel of European and North American cities. The city of Huizhou features a replica of the Austrian village of Hallstatt; while Hangzhou, a city famous for its own waterfront culture, now includes a “Venice Water Town” that has Italian-style buildings, canals, and gondolas. Other cities in China now feature Dutch colonial-style townhouses, German row houses, and Spanish-style developments.
Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China from the NYRB blog.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear (12 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Little Britain in Chengdu is the weirdest thing. The problem is that the build quality of these places is usually awful, worse than 70's British construction, after 3 to 4 years everything is falling apart.
posted by arcticseal at 8:02 PM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

According to the model city display in the lobby of the building housing the Chicago Architectural Foundation the Chinese are also building several cool buildings that were proposed for Chicago ~50 years ago but were not selected. It seems like a kind of cool alternate universe thing.
posted by srboisvert at 8:02 PM on June 9, 2013

I feel like I have come across this discussion in 7 different places this week: urban studies message board, museum discussions, architecture discussions, "What is Real?" panel...
posted by Miko at 8:14 PM on June 9, 2013

It's not just China. The replica Dutch city in Japan called Huis ten Bosch is pretty famous architecturally. Even Alex Kerr said he liked it despite himself.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:30 PM on June 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is entirely predictable behaviour: new empires seek to emulate those of the past. Ascendant Rome copied and improved on the architecture of the Greeks; even their religion was syncretic, adopting Zeus and the entire Greek pantheon of gods. Drop an Augustan Roman of the 1st century into the modern National Mall of Washington D.C. and they'd be equally discombobulated by the American attempt at classical buildings.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 9:28 PM on June 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yes, as one of the commenters said: "Not a new phenomenon and not necessarily bad if adaptation of foreign styles is creative. Much of what is thought of as traditional Chinese architecture derives from Central Asian Islamic styles imported under the Yuan. One of the most important roots of Buddhist art is the Classical Greek sculptural tradition, imported into Central Asia following Alexander's conquests."
posted by marvin at 10:44 PM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Urban areas, meanwhile, have lost most of their distinctive characteristics. Even in cities known for their beauty, uniformity rules: in Hangzhou, the entire waterfront along the Grand Canal has been leveled except for one stone bridge. The rest is now apartment blocks and bars.

I saw this in the dispute over the highway and the holdout house -- when viewed from the air, huge expanses of traditional rural Chinese development were being swallowed by a deliberate grid of feeder highways and local grids. Yes, you do see this in the US, but usually only at a smaller scale, and often traditional roads and farmhouses survive amid the suburbs.
posted by dhartung at 2:29 AM on June 10, 2013

Just wait until they discover the charms of American suburban sprawl!
posted by spitbull at 4:13 AM on June 10, 2013

I think this needs a 'shanzhai' tag.
posted by acb at 4:23 AM on June 10, 2013

All the new (suburban) houses around here are designed to look like Tuscan villas. Note: I live in a swamp.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 7:34 AM on June 10, 2013

"worse than 70's British construction"

That's really saying something.
posted by vckeating at 9:30 AM on June 29, 2013

Exposed wiring, tiles falling off days after installation, cracked glass not fixed, generally poor finish and unsafe. Yep, just needs Yosser Hughes for that 70's feel.
posted by arcticseal at 9:33 AM on June 29, 2013

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