Interview with Architect, Professor of Architecture Gintaras Čaikauskas
Judging from your statements in the public media, we could draw a conclusion that you are not indifferent to the subject of plagiarism in architecture.
It would be quite inaccurate to speak in such generalizing tones. The case of architecture is very special. I’ve heard, people have already found the legal ways to identify plagiarism in music. Whereas as far as architecture is concerned, I was assured by lawyers it is almost impossible to identify cases of plagiarism in this area, unless the object is an identic copy [of the original].
Why is it impossible – because of the lack of any legal precedents, or because of the complexity of this area?
For both reasons. As in other fields of art, there is lots of subjectivity in architecture. Unless a copy is absolutely identical, legally it is difficult to identify it as a case of plagiarism. Therefore I can speak about plagiarism in artistic sense only, about this thin line between influence and copying. It is quite common in architecture to speak about the influence of previous colleagues (such as Vitruvius, Palladio, order system and its application). But this subject cannot be used for illustration of plagiarism; it relates more to the styles and methods of work, and tastes.
So, why, in your opinion, the accusations of plagiarism are heard from time to time in the public media?
They are brought on emotional grounds mostly. Let us say, someone makes a work of architecture through hard and deep work and experience, and can hardly name, wherefrom he/she has taken the initial idea or vision. And then someone else interprets it fairly easily, without making too much effort, just after reading, let’s say a publication. In a competition or some other competitive struggle, the colleagues or competitors may think of this as an unfair game. I personally can say in my own work I always try to be contextual rather than “fashionable”; although the so-called fashionability (compliance with the known trends) often is used as one of the evaluation criteria. Moreover, when finding such baseline elements in an object present for some exhibition or any other evaluation, members of the jury read a certain secret code as if in proof of the fact that the given solution is correct, and express their support for it thus covering their backs. They believe that by doing so they can avoid mistakes: this is the popular way, this can be perceived by the audience. Supposedly, this is the way, how Dutch, Finnish or Spaniards do it, therefore it is correct. Such approach alarms and irritates me a little, because when you create something new, it is even more difficult: you need not only persuade everyone that your idea also has a right to exist, but also deny it not necessarily has to look like an established cliché.
Is it possible to plagiarise an idea, emotion or metaphor? Can the terms of plagiarism or copying be applied also to such notions?
This is very subtle and depends on how much, by what degree. I am not against the influence, which always was and will be. For example, we talk about Alvaro Aalto’s influence on Lithuanian post-war architecture. And it is a positive thing, as it contributed to our development. Back then Lithuanians negated the quoting of classics that prevailed in the Stalinist architecture and could be truly considered plagiarism. In addition to this, there are typical design projects, and this is a separate subject. For example, it is not clear up to the present moment, whether the Trade Union Palace in Vilnius is a typical, repeated or unique design project…
… or the Lietuva cinema theatre in Vilnius…
…Yes, exactly. I have been interested in both cases, but still cannot properly understand their status. Influence or a mere reflection of the previous ideas is quite common phenomenon; it happens. But it is so, when it is not meaningless, when it can be considered a higher level of development. Let us say, impressionists developed and improved the ideas of one another, but all of them altogether were unique. They did not copy, but rather developed an art trend, some synergy appeared. True plagiarism can be compared to a theft, and I have not heard of any at least in Lithuania. Although theoretically it is possible.
But hard to define legally.
This smells of accusation. Artists are free to talk about influences, whether it is beautiful or not. Another aspect is that all of us watch, study and learn something. In our subconscious we have different “prefabricated” pieces encoded, which may be used, if necessary, quite unintentionally.
You have in mind the so-called conscious and unconscious copying…
…Yes, an artist creates sincerely, and his/her subconscious throws up a similar detail. Be it any need to criticise, then it is so easy to do so. I’ve even heard a saying: “Give me a design, and I can find a similar one in the world…” And then we can spread a rumour it is an equivalent. Students like playing such games, because nowadays it is simple to find analogues on the Internet.
But of the past soviet times people say everybody looked through the same magazines, used the same initial source.
Yes, but back then the difference between us and the West was huge.
While speaking of the plagiarism context, architects distinguish two things: students’ works and competitions.
Every academic course paper starts with the so-called search for analogues; then a student’s ability to analyse, identify trends and systems is evaluated, but in no way plagiarism or copying.
Have you as a teacher ever faced cases of students’ plagiarism?
I had none of this in my practice. But there were cases, when students tried to “catch” one another during their work reviews.
And what about the other case of competitions, when a complex program has to be produced in a short term?
As far as I know, there were some cases, even of consideration at the commission level, but the answer was always negative.
In your own opinion, were any cases of plagiarism at competitions?
At competitions I haven’t noticed any open cases of plagiarism, but lots of cases of influence. As my colleague architects put: “[cases of] looking through some magazines”, but such cases usually are not dramatized.
In history of architecture, the issue of individual expression has not always been important. Even nowadays nobody can accuse of plagiarism a supporter of traditionalist architecture…
…Especially nowadays, when kitsch, “manor” houses are in fashion. As far as history is concerned, I remember, one church in Vilnius was described as looking like Il Gesu in Rome, and it was taken as a compliment. Nowadays a client could hardly ask to build “exactly like somewhere else”. He is more likely to ask building “similarly to somewhere else”. If a waterfall house (by Frank Lloyd Wright) is copied, a fervent discussion will start; but if some elements of Vila Rotonda (by Palladio) are copied, this will be considered normal, just the influence…
Has such trend of using some elements returned through postmodernism?
In postmodernism it was irony, influence, interpretation. Once I also admired the works by James Stirling or Aldo Rossi, which encompassed the transition from primordial stone to the high-tech glamour and most advanced structures. I was fascinated by such eclecticism, as the object was realized in expensive and excellent way. Besides, it seemed to me a new interpretation of classical elements.
There are “experts”, who could find an analogue to every famous soviet building, for example Boston Town Hall and the present Lithuanian Parliament building, etc.
The Parliament building reminiscent of an upturned ziggurat is a typological image. But a personal approach is also very important: if you are up to and actually try doing differently, you have no problems with this. But then you face new challenges: in your work you fail to encode the bearing images, which help to attract attention, let’s say in competitions. Every selection [of works] is sudden, impulsive and a certain technological superficiality by a jury [of competition] is unavoidable. Then everyone supports his/her opinions on the footholds, which are encoded in the subconscious.
But a competition jury member can also have an idea that a certain work has been plagiarised and thus have a rejection reaction towards such work.
It is possible. But often the opposite happens: a work wins the competition just because it contains solutions, which are considered “reliable”, “time-checked” or “fashionable” and thus correct. If a work is innovative, never seen before, it is quite unclear, is it good or bad. Thus the jury members try to cover their backs against criticism, something like this: “if it was correct in the past, this time it will also be correct.”
Interviewed and prepared by Martynas Mankus