There’s an old English saying: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. It’s an idiom that today has little currency in the west, where originality and authenticity tend to be prized above mimicry, but it has been enthusiastically taken to heart in China. A growing trend for copies of European architecture, often in full-scale replicas, has seen some of the continent’s most recognisable landmarks and even towns reappear across Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai.
While fashion houses and technology companies may take umbrage at copies of their work circulating in foreign markets, in this case, each reconstruction is visibly a sincere homage to its original creators. Given the antiquity of many of the famous landmarks and buildings that have been copied, in the majority of cases, the architects are long deceased and in no position to voice an opinion on the work.
Shanghai’s ‘One City, Nine Towns’ development sought to ensure that the nine new neighbourhoods, badly required to accommodate a rapidly growing urban population, would be architecturally and aesthetically diverse. £500 million was spent on developing Thames Town, an English-inspired neighbourhood that comes complete with typical red English telephone boxes and a remarkably pristine Gothic church. It has become a popular venue for wedding photographs, but with most of the properties bought by investors rather than families looking to move in, is often eerily quiet.
In Guangdong Province you’ll find a quaint Austrian town named Hallstatt, a reconstruction of the original UNESCO World Heritage city of that name. The 2012 opening ceremony of the town was attended by the Austrian Hallstatt’s Mayor and received considerable attention, but like Thames Town, Hallstatt remains more attractive to tourists and wedding photographers than residential buyers.
In Hallstatt, part of the problem lies in the location; it’s three kilometres from the nearest town. In other new builds, such as the German part of One City, Nine Towns, the architects’ focus on authenticity led them to neglect the principles of feng shui that are considered crucial to Chinese buyers. While these towns may not have inspired the hoped-for influx of families, their arrival has been welcomed by local residents unable to afford foreign travel, who take the opportunity to examine alternative architectural styles.
However, in some cases, the landmarks have been quite significantly adapted; Suzhou’s take on London’s Tower Bridge has twice the number of towers, but no drawbridge mechanism. Its Sydney Harbour Bridge is two thirds shorter than the original, while its Pont Alexandre III bridge is made of concrete.
The sightseeing element of the copycat buildings isn’t to everyone’s tastes, but has had significant traction. Shenzhen’s ’Window of the World’ theme park recreates international landmarks including the Pyramids, Mount Rushmore and Angkor Wat, along with European landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, Stonehenge and the Kremlin. In Tianjin, you can go shopping at the Florentia Village and see San Marco, the Coliseum and Venetian canals, in between Prada purchases and bites of pizza.
Whether you’re considering investing in authentic European architecture or a new build in Hong Kong, Engel & Völkers can guide you towards your ideal investment. Our international network of friendly and experienced agents spans five continents, ensuring that wherever in the world you want to live, we can find you the perfect property.