Photos Capture China's Copycat Architecture Phenomenon

By Nomvelo Chalumbira, July 5, 2019

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China has a well-known history as a center of counterfeit culture. In recent years, the Chinese phenomena of copying has gone beyond consumer goods and progressed to large scale construction. 

London-based photographer Cian Oba-Smith’s recent photographic series, Shanzhai (the Chinese word for copycat) explores this marvel of Chinese copycat architecture also known as duplitecture (an intentional, functioning copy of a pre-existing, and often familiar, piece of architecture). 

WATCH: China’s Copy-Paste Architecture

Copying architectural styles is one thing, but where China really excels is creating exact replicas of buildings. Over the last 15 years, many settlements and communities have been built on the outskirts of cities like Shanghai and Hangzhou. The Eiffel Tower at high-end real estate development Tianducheng in Hangzhou is just one such example of an iconic building recreated by Chinese architects.

Shanzhai examines the duplitecture trend in the wider context of globalisation, which has inevitably resulted in cross-culture pollination. Although the duplicated towns were initially deemed a failure, with some becoming ‘ghost towns,’ it would seem that the Chinese construction industry went for function, rather than demand, on these housing projects. As such, more recently China’s urban middle class has expanded exponentially and the need for housing has increased with the population. 

Nowadays these settlements have seen an influx of Chinese residents moving in. In Oba-Smith’s images, a sense of their sterility and sparseness is preserved, with few people wandering the streets or enjoying activities outdoors. Oba-Smith’s work also brings China’s fondness for imitation to the forefront, and forces us to question the originality behind these settlements. 

You can see some of Oba-Smith’s snaps from the series Shanzhai below:

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READ MORE: Huawei's Dongguan Campus Replicates 12 European Cities

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