Copyright in the Bazaar

Lluís J. Liñán

An initial version of this text was published, in Spanish, in Bartlebooth 6. Protocolos.
The art or science of building; specifically: the art or practice of designing and building structures and especially habitable ones

Considering the recurrence of the question “what is architecture, for you?” in interviews, Q&As and autobiographies, architecture must be a discipline that is hard to define. Or, at least, it must be a discipline that elicits multiple definitions

In the introduction to S, M, L, XL, Rem Koolhaas offers his own: “Architecture is a hazardous mixture of omnipotence and impotence. Ostensibly involved in ‘shaping’ the world, for their thoughts to be mobilized, architects depend on the provocations of others.” This particular definition places architects in a complex, position halfway between their aspirations and their actual opportunities – or, to put it differently, between their learned attributions and their usual tasks. Educated as instigators and drivers of urban and social change, most architects hardly live to see any of their designs become a reality, and this ambivalence is difficult to overcome. Indeed, it can be traced back to the modern definition of the architect as an independent professional, or rather as a professional that does not “shape” the world with her own hands, but always through an intermediary object – the project.

The project is the primary product of architectural labor, a purely virtual creation that is interpreted, translated and turned into built matter by other professionals. Consequently, any project encapsulates new visions of the world that lack the ability to break free from the paper autonomously. In this scenario, in order to recognize an architect as the author of a building it becomes necessary to accept and, to some extent, enforce that buildings accurately materialize the guidelines captured in their design or, as Mario Carpo puts it, that buildings are understood as identical copies of their designs. [ii] That is the reason why the profession is completely bound to the documents that make such “suspension of critical disbelief” possible: [iii] more than on the provocations of others, architects depend on the documents that certify their labor, for they are the elements that legally underpin the foundations of their production.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the most accurate instruments for the delineation of the boundaries of the profession focus precisely on the documents of the architectural project, for it is their reproduction –and reproducibility [iv] – that, ever since the XV century, has enabled the existence of the architect as an autonomous creator. Indeed, it is in the legal regulation of these documents and their distribution where we can still find a precise definition of architecture amid the dripping fog of individual interpretations – one that permeates the regulation of intellectual property in architecture and, in spite of its apparent detachment from the conversations held in architecture schools, seems to describe with accuracy some of the most characteristic design dynamics of contemporary practice

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[1] Rem Koolhaas, “Introduction” in S, M, L, XL (New York: The Monacelli Press, 1995), XIX.
[2] Mario Carpo, The Alphabet and the Algorithm (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2011).
[3] This concept is taken from Robin Evans, “Translations from Drawing to Building [1986]”, in Translations from Drawing to Building and other Essays (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1997), 151.
[4] Mario Carpo, Architecture in the Age of Printing: Orality, Writing Typography and Printed Images in the History of Architectural Theory (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2001).
[5] The text of the bill is available online at, accessed on May 10, 2018, Additional information regarding the legislation is provided by the Circular 41 from the US Copyright Office, titled “Copyright Claims in Architectural Works”. The document is available at
[6] Quoted in Daniel Su, “Substantial Similarity and Architectural Works: Filtering Out “Total Concept and Feel””, Northeastern Law Review vol. 101, no.10 (2007): 1865.
[7] See Ana Miljacki, “Introduction” in Under the Influence (Cambridge, MA: SA+P Press, 2013), 8-10; and “Critical Appropriation: Discursive Networks of Architectural Ideas,” co-authored with Amanda Reeser Lawrence, Ila Burman and Edward Mitchel (eds.), New Constellations/New Ecologies, Proceedings of the 101st Annual Meeting of the ACSA, March 2013.
[8] Op. Cit. 6.
[9] Joan Fontcuberta, La furia de las imágenes. Notas sobre la postfotografía (Barcelona: Galaxia Gutenberg, 2016).
[10] Rem Koolhaas, “Pearl Delta River” in Mutations (Barcelona: ACTAR, 2000), 309-335.
[11] See, for instance, Marcus Fairs, “Zaha Hadid building pirated in China”, Dezeen, January 2, 2013,
[12] The recurrence of certain forms in contemporary architecture has been studied, among other works, in Ana Miljacki (ed.) Under the Influence (Cambridge, MA: SA+P Press, 2013); Cruz Garcia and Nathalie Frankowski, Pure Hardcore Icons: A Manifesto on Pure Form in Architecture (London: Artifice, 2013); Luca Silenzi, “Know your [Archi-] meme”, Domusweb, March 21, 2012.; or Philipp Schaerer, “Built Images: On the Visual Aestheticization of Today’s Architecture”, TRANSFER, January 31, 2017,
[13] Eric S. Raymond, The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary (Cambridge, MA: O’Reilly, 1999), 27-78.