Discourse, 24 October 2021

An image from the Book ‘Copy Paste. The Badass Architectural Copy Guide’ by Winy Maas and Felix Madrazo.

A recent YouTube video ‘When Architects Copy’ by Stewart Hicks had caught my attention, threw me into a further vortex of thoughts about the originality of design in architecture.

The topic of originality in architectural design is not exactly a taboo, but more likely becoming obsolete especially when we are living at such an era where all these info, pictures, and ideas are just a click away. Instagram, Pinterest, Archdaily, Dezeen… you name it. (further read on the current visual generation in architecture) But I do think it worth for a discourse, as it does depend on many levels within a design process- not so much about the ethic, but the intelligence of it.

From the very surface of it, we can easily find similar design of forms in various scales. It may not be an entire copy but parts of here and there, as if architecture design is just an attempt to test for an endless combination of forms. Do we call this ‘copy and paste’? But do we have completely new forms that are yet to be discovered? With so many masterpieces and brilliant crafts before us, copying seems inevitable in our generation of architecture, in term of its forms. In fact, we may sometimes find our designs are surprisingly similar to a random picture on an architecture magazine, even though we do not see it before or intentionally refer to it. Should we thus neglect the idea of originality from architectural forms?

Back to our days in architecture school, we were usually being told to do precedent studies before starting any design. “Ah, the entrance looks cool, let’s use it for my community centre” was a flagrant norm that resulted from these ‘precedent studies’. Even in the crit sessions with the mentors, we were often being directed to various pictures of famous architects’ works. They did cultivate a fallacy of designing, which almost become collaging various references of mere forms, ideas, or whatever, without really making an intensive, valid reference or self-conscious arguments to those pre-existed ideas. We end up being a lazy designer, don’t we?

I believe the stories behind the forms are rather important. As the forms, ideas, or designs find their ground to a very specific context, it makes them valid, and a lot tougher to be copied. Taking a window as an example, it can be made completely alike for two different houses, but what makes them different or original, is perhaps, they are being placed specifically to a view outside- a garden, a tree, a neighbor, a mountain, or even being closed. These made the distinctive meanings or validity to two windows, and defined their very own originality for the respective context. This, compared to the lazy montage of ideas in the previous paragraph, is difficult to be copied. (Or another way round, our works are easily being copied because they are not being specified and scrutinized enough addressing a very particular context?)

Architecture is hardly a pure art, and originality in architecture is damn difficult, almost an unrealistic attempt, or perhaps a non-existence aspect in the present architecture. After all, in architectural design we barely create, we discover instead.

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