Copycat: Why Is Copying a Style Bad for Cities?

CopyCat is the act of emulating something that's already been created and using it in a different context. Copycats can exist in music, arts and design; but they are not exactly a design inspiration or a style reference, but rather a literal copy with almost no modification of the original work.

In architecture, it is as if you were inspired by an emblematic work from another space-time and placed it somewhere unconnected with the original roots of the work-style.

China’s Example

There are countless examples of Copycat in architecture all over the world. China, for example, is a Copycat champion, with buildings emulating the Eiffel Tower, Le Corbusier's Rochamps Chapel and even an entire Manhattan-inspired city called Tianzin.

Things were going so far that the Chinese government banned copycats starting in 2020, in an attempt to preserve local design.

Copycat: Why Is Copying a Style Bad for Cities? - Image 2 of 4
Chinese Eiffel Tower. Image by MNXANL, via Wikipedia. License CC BY-SA 4.0

What is the problem with Copycat and why are they so criticized around the world?


I had a professor in college who said that we need to build architecture with "culturally relevant meanings". In other words, the works need to create a connection with the place and time in which they are inserted, they have to dialogue respecting the history and identity of that place.

But what if your client is a big fan, for example, of the White House in the USA and had a dream to live in a similar building? This is what happened in the case of the mansion of the Brazilian singer Gusttavo Lima, built in the countryside of Goiás.

Clearly, the White House is not part of Goiás' space-time. It was built in Palladian neoclassical style in 1772, a reality quite distant from the Brazilian cerrado. So yes, the singer's house project is a Copycat, a poorly made large-scale copy of a building that does not connect with the history and time of this place.

Copycat: Why Is Copying a Style Bad for Cities? - Image 4 of 4
Chinese Champs-Élysées, named Xiangxie Road. Image by MNXANL, via Wikipedia. Licença CC BY-SA 4.0

Is the architect making a mistake for having done the client's will to the detriment of respect for place and time? This discussion is very complicated and to try to understand it better, let's talk a little about philosophy.

Matters of Taste

For the philosopher Pierre Bordieu (1930-2002), who wrote about matters of taste and cultural formation, beings are formed by Habitus. What would that be?

Habitus is a system of embodied dispositions, tendencies that organize the ways in which individuals perceive the social world around them and react to it. Habitus is acquired through the lived reality to which individuals are socialized, their individual experience and objective opportunities. Thus, habitus represents how the group culture and personal history shape the body and mind and, as a result, shape social action in the present.

For Bourdieu, Habitus conducts matters of taste and influences how the individual behaves in life in society, reflecting on purchase actions and on the aesthetic issues of everything that surrounds him or her. If a Habitus is not mature, its choices likely reflect immature decisions of taste.

Kant (1724-1804), one of the main philosophers of the modern era, also commented on taste and the cultural question in his 1790 book “The faculty of judging”. For Kant, there is good taste (erudite, academic taste) and there is bad taste (not necessarily linked to what is popular, but based on poorly constructed cultural standards).

Copycat: Why Is Copying a Style Bad for Cities? - Image 3 of 4
Tiandu Park. Image by MNXANL, via Wikipedia. License CC BY-SA 4.0

We cannot demand that all people have well-built tastes and habitus, as this depends on the life story and access that these people had in their formal education.

In Brazil, where education is deficient, especially in visual, artistic and aesthetic fields, this is even more complicated. No wonder there are numerous cases like Gusttavo Lima's house there.

And How Is the Copycat in Practice?

This is reflected in architecture. When we're designing for a client, it is not uncommon for clients to have strange requests, copycat desires, and questionable tastes.

It is up to us to try to catechize them and teach them, because that is also the role of architects. Respect the place and time we are creating and teaching others about it.

What if it does not work? Patience! It is hard to deny a project (project means money, right?) because the client doesn't give up on a crazy idea, especially when we are starting our professional life and we still cannot choose clients.

The big problem in the case of Copycat is public and large-scale buildings, whose insertion in urban space takes place in emblematic places of the city, with a high concentration of people. To what extent can such a large Copycat negatively influence the urban experience of the people passing through it?

Should there be a public commission to judge and approve the aesthetics of such projects? Should Brazil ban Copycat just like China?

Via Tabulla.

This article is part of the ArchDaily Topics: Aesthetics, proudly presented by Vitrocsa the original minimalist windows since 1992. The aim of Vitrocsa is to merge the interior and exterior with creativity.

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Cite: Matoso, Marília. "Copycat: Why Is Copying a Style Bad for Cities?" [CopyCat: por que a cópia de um estilo é nociva para as cidades?] 15 May 2022. ArchDaily. (Trans. Simões, Diogo) Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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