Deep Copy

“The three R’s: Repetition Repetition Repetition” – Mark E. Smith, The Fall

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.


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  1. Naqeeb says:

    Sounds like a great course. I often feel this should be experimented with more in architecture considering how contemporary musicians and artists have explored it through sampling and appropriation techniques eg Flying Lotus, Richard Prince. But I also wonder about the opposite, if its at all possible to be completely original. I remember reading an interview with Francois Roche talking about Kazuo Shinohara, apparently “using the concept of ‘zero-degree’ shape. he was the first architect, for me, that was trying to escape from post-modernism. trying to escape from the idea of citation, the pleasure of the citation from something you know. he worked a lot to eviscerate the references and to produce something that you can’t imagine where it comes from. I love this. he was the first one trying to escape from this addiction of citation, which is very important now.”

  2. Jack Self says:

    Last year Mark Cousins told me not to reach so quickly for my Baudrillard (apparently he hasn’t been in vogue since the late 90’s, before I even hit high school) – do you intend to avoid the whole simulation/simulacrum debate? If not, do you have a new angle on it?

    My age group – Gen Y, or the Digital Natives, or the Millennials, or whatever – have had their modus operandi seriously shaped by computers and the Internet, but I’m not convinced that the root of it as simple as cut/copy/paste – I would be interested to hear how you intend to engage with the fundamental shift in the way we are using our brains to identify and solve design problems.

    I guess I am still struggling to understand how this agenda can become propositional, especially about the times we live in, as opposed to derivative or nostalgic.

    Hopefully these questions don’t seem to impertinent, they are legitimate. I think its going to be a great unit, and I am really looking forward to your presentation.

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