Is Fake the New Real? Searching for an Architectural Reality

In the 21 st Century, the term “fake news” was used frequently in the media to refer to headlines or fictional statements that are believed to be real and influence public opinion and actions. Fake news replaces the more popular term “propaganda” and seeks to misinform. It also aims to “damage an entity, person, or agency and/or gain financially, often using sensationalist or dishonest headlines. Also, it can be difficult to identify intentional deceit and differentiate “real” information. Similar to the real and fake in the built environment, it can be difficult to trace their duality. It might be helpful to examine the wider context of fake statements in architecture or environmental design.

Fakes can teach us many things, including the fallibility and incompetence of experts. — Rem Koolhaas

A man with “fake news” rushing to the printing press, 1894, Illustration by Frederick Burr Opper, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?

Fake architecture

Fakes can be embedded in a copy of a constructed original, or relate to an unbuilt design executed within a different context. A reconstruction re-creating something no longer exists renders it irrelevant, or just nostalgic. Fake may be found in the appearance. It could appear as if it has a lower cost version of costly materials or pretending to have value. Architecture can create many false conditions by using formal expressions such as sustainability, materiality (fake rock), vernacular origins and high-tech functionality. It is hard to discern the line between fake architectural relationships and the creation real cultural references. This is determined by the user’s history, experiences and perceptions. Fake architectural elements are an issue in preservation. Reconstruction and repair often live alongside imagination and storytelling throughout history. Some critics use the adjective fake to describe architectural reconstructions, such as the Baroque Berlin City Palace replica of Venice’s Saint Mark’s Square’s Campanile (which was made famous by a fake photograph showing the collapse of the original), or the concrete copy in Nashville of the Parthenon (one of many copies) of this Parthenon. Although the fake definition has merits, it leads to the question of true and real. This suggests that everything else is fake once this definition is established.

St. Mark’s Campanile, Venice, Italy, 1514. image by Luka Aless, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?
St. Mark’s Campanile, Venice, Italy, 1514. image by Luka Aless, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?
Sather Tower at the University of California, Berkeley, USA, 1914. Image by EncycloPetey, distributed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?
Sather Tower at the University of California, Berkeley, USA, 1914. Image by EncycloPetey, distributed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?
Simulation of Stadtschloss, Berlin Germany 1994. Image by FkMohr, distributed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?
Simulation of Stadtschloss, Berlin Germany 1994. Image by FkMohr, distributed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?
Mockup façade element of Stadtschloss, Berlin Germany, 2012. Image by Bonet 86, distributed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?
Mockup façade element of Stadtschloss, Berlin Germany, 2012. Image by Bonet 86, distributed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?

Fake architecture can disguise itself as pretense, but also suggestiveness. For example, buildings that imply sustainability, high-end materials or iconic conditions found elsewhere in the past or suggesting authenticity. Virtual, visionary and fake spaces can all serve different purposes without necessarily being deceitful or a straight lie. Architecture is often used to show what the client wants it to be – power, values and democracy or other sociopolitical, cultural, and political conditions. The symbols and references used in sacred architecture are meant to convey meanings to the people who have been exposed to the stories. The technique of creating environments from films, fairy tales or travel destinations has been perfected on a large scale by theme parks. It allows for the realization of what was not possible before and enhances it until it appears more effective than the original. The theme parks are not designed to fool people into thinking they are visiting the Pirates of the Caribbean. Instead, they offer a unique experience that combines amusement park rides with a large theater. The replicas of famous landmarks are used to transport cultural values all over the world, such as the Eiffel Tower, which is associated with Western culture and the lifestyle of Shenzhen, China. We bring home miniature versions of these same monuments as souvenirs to remember and prove our visits. These memorials are used to recall buildings no longer in existence, either as an outline reconstruction or simply as a marker. Linear perspective was discovered by Filippo Brunelleschi, Florentine architect, and sculptor. It became a popular way to blur the lines between sculpture, painting, and architecture. Masaccio, a painter, used perspective to create the illusion of depth in his paintings. His accomplishments include showing landscapes and buildings as they recede in the landscape, which is the principle that Masaccio was one of the first to use. The 15 th century was over and perspective had become a common feature in the arts. This is evident in the work of Michelangelo Raphael, Botticelli and many others.

Eiffel Tower Tianducheng, SkyCity, Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China, 2007. Image by MNXANL, distributed under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license.. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?
Eiffel Tower Tianducheng, SkyCity, Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China, 2007. Image by MNXANL, distributed under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license.. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?
Masaccio, Holy Trinity for Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy, 1426. Image from:  John T. Spike, Masaccio, Rizzoli libri illustrati, Milano 2002, distributed under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license. from: John T. Spike, Masaccio, Rizzoli libri illustrate, Milano 2002, distributed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?
Masaccio, Holy Trinity for Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy, 1426. Image from: John T. Spike, Masaccio, Rizzoli libri illustrati, Milano 2002, distributed under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license. from: John T. Spike, Masaccio, Rizzoli libri illustrate, Milano 2002, distributed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?

Famous Copies

Parthenon is perhaps the most well-known building of Greek antiquity. It served as a cultural and physical precedent in the West for many centuries. Its immense impact on Western culture cannot be measured. The message of scale and dignity is one that triumphs over barbaric other cultures who may claim Athenian cultural treasures and land. The perceived unity of the cultural message and the architectural form is carried to different Parthenon copies around the world. This simplified version, which represents Western values, retains some of its meaning, despite changes in climate, place, material, and program. The Parthenon design was first seen in William Strickland’s Second Bank in Philadelphia in the 19th century. It was reduced to three-fifths its original size. As a temporary structure, a complete replica of the Parthenon was built in Nashville, Tennessee in 1897 for the Centennial Exposition. Although this copy was meticulous in its attention to details, it did not reflect recent discoveries of polychromy. It was an act of cultural criticism. The layer of paint was removed, but it restored parts of the original Parthenon that were missing or damaged: the metopes and pediment statues. Russell Hart, who renovated the Parthenon in 1920, brought it closer to its original shapes by rebuilding the exterior from concrete using casts of Elgin marbles and other artifacts. Parthenons were also built in other parts of the globe, with selected portions of them being used by others. This was done to borrow the dignity and perfection that symbolises justice, education depth, democracy, and justice. Edward Hollis wrote: “The High Court of Sri Lanka has been given an air of gravitas through the attachment of a Parthenon as a porch. Edinburgh College of Art was created to house casts of the ancient Greek sculptures. Parthenon is used everywhere it appears to symbolise art and civilization, liberty, and eternal fame.” Marta Minujin’s latest Parthenon replica was a reissued version of the Parthenon of Books’. This reconstruction was made of metal scaffolding and banned books that were originally installed in Buenos Aires 1983. It was reconstructed in Kassel for the 2017 art show Documenta.

The Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens, 447 BCE. Image by Haitham Alfalah, distributed under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license.. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?
The Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens, 447 BCE. Image by Haitham Alfalah, distributed under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license.. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?
Parthenon, Centennial Exposition, Nashville, Tennessee, USA, 1897. Image by Michael Rivera, distributed under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license.. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?
Parthenon, Centennial Exposition, Nashville, Tennessee, USA, 1897. Image by Michael Rivera, distributed under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license.. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?

Although multiple copies of buildings are possible, these are rarely clandestine copies. These copies are often sold to an unknown buyer or as a copy from another architect. Replicating buildings is simple with ‘copy/paste” operations in data processing. This includes 3D modeling programs and architecture drafting. Laser scanning is a preservation technique that can be combined with 3D printing to make mass production of any building. This allows for the exact geometry of the scanned structure to be reproduced in one material and also allows for the creation of a homogeneous copy. The original of a photograph raised concerns. 3D printing raises questions about the authenticity of the duplicate and the original. The copy can be used as its own expression, possibly without the need to reference the original.

View of Hallstatt, Hallstatt, Austria, 2007. Image by Bwag, distributed under a CC-BY-SA-4.0 license.. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?
View of Hallstatt, Hallstatt, Austria, 2007. Image by Bwag, distributed under a CC-BY-SA-4.0 license.. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?
Replica of the Austrian town Hallstatt in China, 2013. Hanno Böck, distributed under a CC-BY-SA-4.0 license.. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?

Restoration and Repair: Changing Views on Authenticity

For cultural continuity, it is vital to preserve historic monuments and other aging structures. It is a complicated process to determine what is worthy of preservation. Jorge Otero­Pailos wrote: “Preservation forms the heart of all cultural institutions. An institution is defined as a society that is organized around a specific object. An institution can be organized around religious objects or art institutions around objects. Cultural institutions are also built around preserved objects. Cities and buildings change constantly. Since preservation was a viable option in the 17 th century, there have been many theories about how to treat historic buildings. The 21 st century seems to have caught the field between materials conservation and regulatory procedures. Although the original site may be representative of a particular era, many sites are constantly changing with new layers being added or removed. The most common layer or intervention that is added to a site’s history is often disputed at the time it was implemented and then becomes more appreciated as it integrates with the evolving system. David Fixler, an architect, advocates flexibility. “When there is doubt about the authenticity and museum-quality restoration project, then it is obvious that we must allow some flexibility in applying any notions of authenticity to the interpretation or re-presentation a cultural resource.”

Many German cities are still making repairs to damage caused by WWII more than 70-years ago. Frankfurt’s Romerberg square is a popular tourist spot. It features medieval buildings and the so-called Romer. This large block originally contained eleven buildings, including the Old St. Nicholas Church and other smaller-scale structures. The Romer was demolished in 1944, and rebuilt in 1955 with its neogothic façades. Reconstructions continued through the 21 century. One of Frankfurt’s oldest streets was rebuilt in the 1980s with its neogothic facades. A series of playful, postmodern buildings mirrored the urban structure. In the autumn of 2018, the latest phase of Frankfurt’s reconstruction of its old town will be complete. It will replace the Technisches Rathaus, which was built in 1974. An urban renewal project that combines old and new involves a whole district that consists of 15 reconstructions and 20 modern buildings, each reflecting the context in which they were built.

Steel Replica of Delft Gate, Cor Kraat, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 1995. Image by Anne-Catrin Schultz.. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?
Steel Replica of Delft Gate, Cor Kraat, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 1995. Image by Anne-Catrin Schultz.. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?
Am Römerberg 19-27 as seen from Römerberg from the southeast, Frankfurt/Main, Germany, 2011. Image by Simsalabimbam, distributed under a CC-BY-SA-4.0 license. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?
Am Römerberg 19-27 as seen from Römerberg from the southeast, Frankfurt/Main, Germany, 2011. Image by Simsalabimbam, distributed under a CC-BY-SA-4.0 license. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?

FAKE vs. Real

It is easy to see that fake is easier to identify than true. Both are influenced by emotions, location, culture, time, and place. It is also strongly linked to architectural practice, material usage, and fabrication. A historic building that has been relocated would be considered unauthentic or fake if authenticity was only determined by its location. The only way to link a building’s origin to its architect or builder would be to ignore the cultural and stylistic tendencies an architect is inherently part of. The link between a building’s original intention and its actuality would make it impossible to adapt or change over time. A strong emphasis on material culture could indicate that maintenance or change is not possible. Fakearchitectural elements can be easily identified when they are focused on one social group or premise. This is often due to an emotional attachment to the way things should be (often motivated by nostalgia or random purism about materiality or shape). The context in which they are used and the use of them affects their ability to be appropriate buildings. If a building’s condition changes, so will its status. Buildings don’t need to be exceptional. They can act as humble partners in the ecosystem they inhabit, striving for sustainability and community well-being. It is easier to point fingers at fakes than it is to identify the real using solid parameters. Instead, we need to look for the fleeting poetry of architecture that evokes a mixture of sincerity and place, time and purpose. This poetry allows architecture to meet our needs, make us feel connected, and inspire our fantasies.

Palazzo Te, Sala dei Giganti, Giulio Romano, Mantova, Italy, 1534. Image by Anne-Catrin Schultz.. Image Courtesy of Real and Fake in Architecture–Close to the Original, Far from Authenticity?
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