Plagiarism: If you build it, they will come (and copy it)

Zaha Hadid's new project in China is in danger of being completed after its own imitator
  • @gillian_orr

China is famous for its copy-cat architecture: you can find replicas of everything from the Eiffel Tower and the White House to an Austrian village across its vast land. But now they have gone one step further: recreating a building that hasn't even been finished yet. A building designed by the Iraqi-British architect Dame Zaha Hadid for Beijing has been copied by a developer in Chongqing, south-west China, and now the two projects are racing to be completed first.

Dame Zaha, whose Wangjing Soho complex consists of three pebble-like constructions and will house an office and retail complex, unveiled her designs in August 2011 and hopes to complete the project next year.

Meanwhile, a remarkably similar project called Meiquan 22nd Century is being constructed in Chongqing, that experts (and anyone with eyes, really) deem a rip-off. The developers of the Soho complex are concerned that the other is being built at a much faster rate than their own.

"It is possible that the Chongqing pirates got hold of some digital files or renderings of the project," Satoshi Ohashi, project director at Zaha Hadid Architects, told Der Spiegel online. "[From these] you could work out a similar building if you are technically very capable, but this would only be a rough simulation of the architecture."

So where does the law stand? Reporting on the intriguing case, China Intellectual Property magazine commented, "Up to now, there is no special law in China which has specific provisions on IP rights related to architecture." They added that if it went to court, the likely outcome would be payment of compensation to Dame Zaha's firm, rather than the defendant being forced to pull the building down. However, Dame Zaha seems somewhat unfazed about the structure, simply remarking that if the finished building contains a certain amount of innovation then "that could be quite exciting". One of the world's most celebrated architects, Dame Zaha – who recently designed the Aquatics Centre for the London Olympics – has 11 current projects in China. She is quite the star over there: 15,000 fans flocked to see her give a talk at the unveiling of the designs for the complex.

Perhaps Dame Zaha's relaxed attitude is the result of a keen awareness of China's fondness for piracy.

After all, this is a country where there are -fake Apple stores, a company called Blockberry flourishes, television shows steal plotlines from America, and some academic journals are rife with plagiarism.

"Everyone says that China is a great copycat country," said Zhang Xin, the property developer who commissioned Dame Zaha. "And that it can copy anything."