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[FAT Architecture. Villa Rotunda Redux, 2012]

Inflection vol. 6 examines the theme of Originals within the discipline of architecture.

My work is always my work, it is not the work of my collaborators. I am not a trademark, I always produce an original. – Peter Zumthor [1]

​​Architects are expected to create original ideas resulting in a unique, bespoke design. This preoccupation with originality has become ubiquitous in the design fields, however historically this has not always been the case. Prior to the Industrial Revolution architecture was created from a catalogue of formalised techniques, associated to classical styles. With the rise of Modern Architecture, originality became ingrained in perceptions of good design. As a result, originality has become a barometer against which we measure the value of design. However technology today allows for ease of replication and copies, thus originality in design has become an ostensibly hollow prospect. As originality becomes more and more elusive, the value of architectural design lies not in originality, but rather the creativity of the architect working within the bounds of technologies and construction methods available at the time of conception and construction.

Critical theorist Walter Benjamin argued in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction that it is mechanical and technical advancements that alter the way in which art is produced, and reproduced, which affects its perception.[2] What is important is that technology allowed art to become reproducible and viewed en masse. Although Benjamin was writing about advancement in printing, photography and cinema, this text is still relevant as it applies to the ability of contemporary architects to copy and paste digital images. Progress in design software and digital communication platforms including social media and blog websites have resulted in the rapid circulation and distribution of images. Furthermore, images of completed or imaginary works of architecture are now available at a single click to anyone, anywhere; often at no cost to the user.

These developments result in the prevalence of copies in two ways. Firstly, direct copies and digital replicas are easier to produce than ever before; it does not take a company with financial backing and equipment; all it requires is one person with a computer and a few hours. Secondly, rapid file sharing means the circulation of the copies receive more exposure. We are more aware of copies than ever before as comparison between the original and the copy may be made instantly with a click of the mouse. This ease of comparison drives designers to respond by designing architecture that is formulated purely to appear entirely original and unaffected by precedent. While the image of the architecture may indeed be distinct, this design strategy is both conceptually and pragmatically shallow. Is originality now a futile goal in design due to our exposure to copies? If not, how might designers create originals?

Originality first became an object of pursuit for architects as late as the 20th century. Prior to the age of mechanical reproduction, architectural expression was associated with formalised techniques and styles, such as Classicism and the Gothic. With the Industrial Revolution, new construction methods and engineering led to the development of Modernist Architecture, with architects rejecting the imitation of historical forms and instead deriving expression from the advancements in technology of the 20th century. [3]

Modernism’s radical departure from tradition soon became orthodoxy, and by the 1970s young architects were beginning to question whether the ideas of the Modern movement were still relevant. In Learning from Las Vegas, Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi called into question the accepted modern values of the architectural institution at the time. The central thesis of this text is that by the 1970s, Modernism had become an outdated style that was unresponsive to its temporal and often physical contexts. The authors argued that, “There is nothing wrong with being influenced, or even copying. Imitating is how children learn. You have to acknowledge sources.”[4]

Today, the speed and quality of communication resulting from our digital culture gives rise to ethical problems concerning plagiarism and copyright infringement. Zaha Hadid’s Wangjing Soho in Beijing was plagiarized by construction company Chongqing Meiquan in Chongqing, Southern China.[5] This copy is viewed critically as it fails to generate innovation and lacks creativity. Rather than responding to the physical and historical environment of Chongqing, the building is simply transplanted from Beijing. The criticism however can be reflected upon Hadid’s original design. The parametrically driven, amorphous nature of the original building is a contemporary style that is often criticised for its lack of specificity. If the design was so easily transportable, does this not imply that the original lacked specificity? If it does not, then is specificity as important as architects often contend?

Architect Sam Jacob explored the topic of copies in architecture at the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale with the exhibition The Museum of Copying.[6] In the exhibition, Jacob developed a replica of Palladio’s Villa Rotonda utilising a mould created by CNC routing. The mould was sprayed with polyurethane foam and demounted. Both the cast and mould were on display side by side, demonstrating the use of novel modes of fabrication to create copies of historical architecture. The exhibition provided a new experience of a historic building for visitors of the exhibition, simultaneously exposing them to the innovative use of current technology with a historical precedent. How might architects utilise technology to create copies in innovative ways? Echoing Benjamin, how do developments in modes of production of architecture change the status and reception of the copy?

Perhaps if we forego the notion of originality in design, copies start to become admissible. In a technological environment where copying and plagiarism is more prevalent than ever before, are traditional notions of authorship and originality still relevant? As the advancements in digital media make copying easier and ever more accessible, have traditional definitions of originality become irrelevant? To what extent should copies be embraced in design, if at all?

Inflection vol.6 invites academics, students and professionals to consider the prospect of originality within design, along with the moral and practical implications copies.

We welcome and invite both academic and practice-oriented written pieces, visual essays, interviews and fictional works that engage with the theme of feedback in relation to architecture, design and related fields.

We look forward to your contribution!


All text is to be formatted according to the Inflection style guide and submitted in .doc format, with referencing according to the Chicago Manual of Style. All images to be formatted as .tiff, CMYK and 300DPI. Contributors are responsible for obtaining copyright of graphic material where appropriate.

Please refer to the Inflection peer review process and selection criteria for guidance on editorial procedures.

Please submit abstracts of maximum 300 words to editorial@inflectionjournal.com by Friday 21 December 2018.


[1] Amy Frearson, “Peter Zumthor completes Devon countryside villa “in the tradition of Andrea Palladio,” Dezeen, last modified October 29 2018, https://www.dezeen.com/2018/10/29/peter-zumthor-secular-retreat-living-architecture-villa-devon/
[2] Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television, last modified February 2015, https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm.
[3] William J R Curtis, “The idea of a modern architecture in the nineteenth century,” in Modern Architecture Since 1900 (London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2013): 22.
[4] Joseph Giovannini, “Architectural Imitation: Is It Plagiarism?”, The New York Times (March 17 1983): https://www.nytimes.com/1983/03/17/garden/architectural-imitation-is-it-plagiarism.html
[5] Hannah Wood, “Never Meant to Copy, Only to Surpass: Plagiarism Versus Innovation in Architectural Imitation,” Archinet, last modified 13 April 2017, https://archinect.com/features/article/150002511/never-meant-to-copy-only-to-surpass-plagiarism-versusinnovationin-architectural-imitation
[6] “Villa Rotunda Redux” FAT Architecture, http://www.fashionarchitecturetaste.com/2012/08/villa_rotunda_redux.html