In 1994, rising architectural star Zaha Hadid won an international competition to design the Cardiff Bay Opera House in Wales. But the Welsh authorities later backtracked on their decision and the project was handed over to another – an outcome, the New York Times says, was a blow to architectural history.
Many years later Hadid did manage to fulfill her opera house dream, albeit much farther afield. In 2010 she unveiled the Guangzhou Opera House, with a futuristic design that has become her trademark. The Iraqi-born architect is now working on eleven projects around China. But it is one of Hadid’s designs in the capital city that is hitting the headlines. Last May, she was surprised to discover that a project she was completing for SOHO China in Beijing – Wangjing SOHO, an office and retail complex with gently curving walls intended to resemble Chinese fans – was mysteriously appearing in Chongqing too.
German newspaper Der Spiegel was one of those to pick up on the story in December, reporting that a shanzhai [the Chinese term for ‘fake’] version of the SOHO China building was under construction. The major difference between the two is that Hadid’s design features three towers, while the copycat reportedly has two. Otherwise, the asymmetrical and futuristic styles of the two buildings look very similar indeed.
Chongqing’s newspapers don’t seem too concerned by the imitation effort, noting more that the building will become an iconic piece of architecture in the municipality once it is completed. But what’s worse, Hadid says, is that she is now in a race to complete her own project before the pirate version opens for business. The plagiarised project is going up at a much quicker pace than its Beijing counterpart, which is scheduled to finish in 2014, says Sohu, an internet portal.
So why has the Chongqing challenger appeared? Hadid Architects project director Satoshi Ohashi told Der Spiegel: “It is possible that the Chongqing pirates got hold of some digital files or renderings of the project. You could work out a similar building if you are technically very capable, but this would only be a rough simulation of the architecture.”
Meanwhile, Zhang Xin, chief executive of SOHO China, says she is outraged, calling the Chongqing developer “shameless” on her personal weibo account. Zhang is also threatening legal action against the construction copycats. Naturally, the developer of the Chongqing project, Meiquan 22nd Century, is denying accusations of plagiarism.
Hadid shouldn’t take it too personally. In 2011, residents of the Austrian village of Hallstatt, a UNESCO World Heritage site, were shocked to learn that Chinese developers had surreptitiously mapped the village and were building a full replica in Guangdong province (see WiC114).
“Everyone says that China is a great copycat country, and that it can copy anything,” SOHO’s Zhang lamented.
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