We’re gearing up for the start of term at the AA. This years studio will be looking at the idea, the reality and the profound architectural significance of copying. Here’s our opening gambit:
The greatest gift of the digital revolution is copying. Cut! Copy! Paste! is the implicit mantra of modern culture ritualised through familiar keystrokes. The cover version and the mash-up are the default settings of contemporary culture. Whether genetic clones, bootlegged iPhones or X-Factor covers, everything that has ever happened is a click away from revival.
This is not a new phenomenon. In fact, we might think of contemporary cut-copy-paste vernaculars like the LOL Cat as heirs to a century of avant- garde art practice. The unoriginality of copying as a cultural mechanism is only rivalled by the originality of its capacity to reinvent.
The copy sets into stark contrast issues of cultural meaning and value. Copies ask us to look, hard. How, why and who copies determine the nature of the output: it’s not what you steal, it’s the way that you steal it.
Despite modernism’s continuing myths of originality, copying is fundamental to the founding myths of architecture. Greek temples were stone copies of wooden structures, Romans copied Greeks, and the Renaissance copied both of them. Modernists copied engineers (and each other – as with Philip Johnson’s explicit copy of Mies’ Farnsworth House, see image). Neo-modernists copied modernists, and post-modernists copied everything. Each time the act of copying allowed something new to be said. These deep historical traditions of copying and the shallow puddle of contemporary culture will be our sites of investigation.
We will learn from art practice, science, music, digital culture, criminals (and architecture), developing our own dictionary of copying. This will investigate the difference between bootlegs, forgeries, mash-ups, facsimiles and reproductions. It will help us understand the errors, degradations and hybridisations that copying introduces.