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Looks familiar... the perils of looking at students' work

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I was struck by the Rem Koolhaas plagiarism case regarding the Rotterdam Kunsthal building.The aggrieved Gareth Pearce's claim that his diploma work had been copied by the Office of Metropolitan Architecture and reproduced in the art gallery was preposterous!

The case reminds me of an experience of my own a few years ago where a young candidate in my office for an interview was invited to leave their portfolio so that I might view it personally. I did. They were not offered the job and their portfolio was returned.

Imagine my dismay when, a considerable time later, I received a letter from the RIBA disciplinary board, alleging that my published design for a restaurant on a bridge at the Earth Centre was stolen from the interviewee's work. I asked to see a copy of their masterpiece. After it arrived, I could see it had nothing to do with my design, except that we had both designed a restaurant on a bridge. I also thought that the person's work was poor. I had never met the creature but it left an unpleasant taste in my mouth, even though no legal action followed.

Koolhaas must be spitting volumes of sourtasting expletives. I am not surprised that the outcome of the case was in OMA's favour, as it is very difficult to prove plagiarism. A more interesting point is why Pearce should try.

Who was financing him? It is not cheap to bring this sort of action. There is research, the presentation and travel, to say nothing of the time.How often does this type of action take place? Why didn't Corbusier sue for all the look-alike buildings? What about all the copying of volume housebuilders'products by other volume housebuilders? My guess is that Pearce was seeking notoriety. He certainly seemed to have waited a long time before moving forward - Koolhaas'greater fame would give Pearce more exposure.

One unfortunate side effect will be an increased wariness about looking at students' work and keeping it for consideration. This will not help talented young architects to get work on projects with a strong design ethos. The good architect would never plagiarise; they will use a project to further their understanding of architecture, not to look for a quick ready-made to reduce office expenses.

I hope this will not turn into a fashion.

Ironically, it is fashion that creates the conditions that encourage this behaviour.

Strongly identified styles are easily recognised, as well as imitated. And it is certainly true that the Kunsthal is fashionably chic and belongs to a general school of Miesian Meddlers which our friend Pearce would certainly have been aware of in his diploma work. How do you account for the effects of the zeitgeist in the world of law?

At least it is a battle over architecture, unlike the struggle over the architecture for Ascot. There, John McAslan suffered a rift with HOK Sport. Surprise surprise! Even though there was a competition, conducted in a diligent manner with the correct advertising, shortlisting and RIBA representation, HOK Sport won, exactly as I felt was originally intended. I participated in the competition and came through the first round. We were advised that teams could join forces for Stage II. Alsop Architects did so with HOK and, in spite of an intelligent strategy, we lost. HOK then formed a partnership with John McAslan and Partners, which was eventually sidelined.

So HOK actually lost and won outright. I fear the work will suffer but, more importantly in this particular story, the whole competition was a farce.

We are surrounded by those who lie in wait to feast on the pickings of failed competitions.

Sadly, these stories are two of many.

WA, Seat 61A BA093 to Toronto

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