Plagiarism in Architecture

Picasso once said that good artists copy; great artists steal. This is well-known and recently over-quoted thanks to the success of Steve Jobs with Apple. It is also tragically misinterpreted. It is a tongue-in-cheek phrase that insinuates that great artists build on the work of others without anyone spotting it.

The new book Copy Paste: The Badass Architectural Copy Guide showed a similarity between the Adalberto Libera designed the Casa Malaparte and the Georgios Kontoleon drawings that they looked the same even though the original house was never built. This raises the question, did Libra copied Kontoleon? Probably not, but the idea was a logical development of images and forms that many architects had been developing and handing off to each other. Design is a question of stretching, reversing, recombining, reusing, and otherwise creatively stealing and adapting what already exists.

Adalberto Libera – Casa Malaparte (1939) vs Georgios Kontoleon – Kyriakides residence (1933)

Copying is not just in architecture, classical-modern music also consists of sampling and reworking to come up with something considered new. In fact, we should stop worrying about how we define the originality and intervention in architecture, instead, it is becoming increasingly difficult to attain.

The opening pages of Copy Paste contain a collection of scans of newspaper articles in which buildings are compared to each other, either contemporaneously and historically or biomorphically. The images are at times amusing and times revealing. You only think it’s embarrassing if copying is a sin. The fact is that you can not avoid copying and pasting but it is how to do it in a manner that is both self-conscious and productive. The dumb thing is the repetition of the same details, the same form and the same plan no matter what the context of the climate is. Good architects, to extend the old saw, steal, bad architects copy themselves. Copy and paste: We always have, we always will, we must, but we must do it well.

In the education field, we should always learn from the past and we have the courage to copy the others. By doing that we are acknowledging the source and paying tribute to the ongoing building. The Greek sculpturing is through the Roman copies, as the remains from the ancient Greek originals are pathetic.

We copy someone or something to:

  1. Learn about the subject and understand it
  2. Pay tribute to it
  3. Acquire the same privileges and exploit it for personal gain

It is wrong to pretend to own the design originality, it is when copying becomes faking. You should only copy to learn and improve, as we copy our friends and parents, it is the most characteristic trait of human behaviour. We should learn that the history of design is the history of re-design. Therefore, the originality is a myth and there are no foreign lands, it is only the traveler who is foreign (Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson).

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