One with a striking similarity, one with ‘borrowed’ parts, and another, a theft! Perhaps just another happy coincidence.

Listed are the family of acts from the creative domain that counterfeit credits and belittle creativity. Amidst the various untouched areas of the creative industry, architectural plagiarism and copyright infringement are absolute front runners. Often disguised as an inspiration or an influence, the fine line between them has grown fuzzier owing to the digital era. Hunger for more, easy, and better work has proportionately led to an increase in widespread unethical practices. Modern-day tools are extensively employed to manipulate the same. These tools have been a catalyst for all forms of architectural plagiarism, an issue that has persisted for as long as the profession has been recognized. 

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The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Creative works involve a tremendous amount of undervalued time, effort, and ideas to display and provide solutions, irrespective of the scale of work. Imitation is a fundamental learning process and is undoubtedly an unconscious element in design thinking/learning. It is often nurtured through negligence and thus eventually glorified as plagiarism. Architectural plagiarism is an extremely disguised form of the practice, thus making it complex to identify and report it, excepting cases of theft of intellectual property, where a complete work of design is falsely claimed ownership by the plagiarist. 

Architecture is perceived considerably quite differently than the other forms of creative compositions. Written pieces of work, for example, can easily be detected as being rigged by simply reading it, whereas architecture involves several dimensions. They can be interpreted as several significant parts of a unified whole, or as a complete homogenous design entity itself, with only the architectural appreciation factor varying by leaps and bounds in the difference of mere perception.   

Tracing plagiarism in architecture, the professional course yet requires pursuing students to have better clarity and the necessity of well-structured anti-plagiarism codes and policies implemented. As for practitioners, apart from the existing regulations and codes followed, the dimension of empathy for a fellow designer is a necessity, not a mere requirement. 

“We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us,” said Winston Churchill in 1943, putting forth a valuable essence. 

Renowned architect Zaha Hadids‘ work, fell prey to the alarming issue of blatant copying when near identical buildings of her designs were put up at a faster rate than the original project itself in China in 2013. Sydney’s Opera House, the celebrated Australian landmark, is a classic example of infringement of moral rights. Architect Jørn Utzon‘s design was modified in terms of the internal layouts by a team of Architects who had eventually taken over the repeatedly delayed project. Only with the approval of the Copyright Amendment Act in the year 2000 a framework to credit the author of the work and the right to be consulted concerning any changes planned to buildings they had designed was firmly established.

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The Greener Side of this Grass 

Arguably, not all works of inspiration are bent, as evident from the famous works of architecture belonging to every persistent trend/style. An inspired work relies on a tribute, independently expanding on an idea in a desired, refreshing direction. At the same time, imitation is a mimic or a reproduction of an existing entity.

Learning from the past is an anchored and proven approach in architecture. The St. Paul’s dome by Christopher Wren is said to have been inconceivable if not for the St. Peter’s dome in Rome by Michelangelo. The Capitol dome in Washington, D.C, by Thomas Ustick Walter, is an inspiration of Wren’s, as a work of admiration, not lack of ideas.  

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Capitol dome in Washington, D.C_©

Robert Venturi’s outlook prioritizes the quality of work over originality. Doing slight variations within established traditions and conventions seems like a better fit, provided the immense impact of influences on a person. Influences, according to him, are driven by several principles. “The more an architect is influenced, the more he resents the person who has influenced him – and the less he acknowledges the influence.”  

Permutations of available resources like materials narrowed down to the design contextualization along with forms and shapes are still insufficient to produce purely original work. Advancements in engineering and computer programs play a vital role in expanding the scope of the creative cause. Usually, influences are derived from workplaces, and meticulously shaped roles, thus finding their unconscious imprint on any and every work. 

“A bad copy is an embarrassment.” Putting aside imitation and ‘inspiration’, the point at issue here is concerned about the quality of the derived work. These works of derivation, by default, are subject to comparison and are often deprived of any focus. They are loose-knit quotations, a response to vague interpretations, and tend to lack a certain refinement to detail and robust spatial qualities.

The Inevitable Conclusion

The issue of architectural plagiarism is pressing not only because of the uncredited works but of a more serious robbery, the theft of opportunities. Pirated material distorts the intended creative result and only goes beyond manipulating the opportunities intended for worthy creators. Interestingly, a material worthy enough to be borrowed without permission could still remain unrecognized as the authentic artist’s work. This is not one but two opportunities lost, twice regarding the creative work and once to raise a voice against architectural plagiarism. 


Only when one is aware of this form of plagiarism can it be identified and accordingly acted over. With the advocacy of various Copyrights and Design Acts available as of date, all that is left is to be aware of one’s rights and to speak up with the necessity. The practice of protecting architectural works remains reasonably unheard of, despite the aid of solid support from various laws. The debate on plagiarism being right or wrong is ongoing. But the question of raising awareness and self-awareness to promote better ethics is a straightforward affirmative. 

The discipline of design is subjective, not discipline itself.

Citations for websites:

Discover Magazine. (n.d.). Plagiarism Is Theft – But Of What? [online] Available at:

G, A. (2018). Plagiarism and Architecture|If You Build It, They Will Copy It. [online] Architecture Lab. Available at:

‌ (n.d.). Architecture & copyright controversies. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Oct. 2022]. (n.d.). Copyright Protection To Architectural Works – Copyright – India. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Oct. 2022].

Risen, C. (n.d.). Brothers From Another Mother. [online] The Morning News. Available at: [Accessed 1 Oct. 2022].

‌Rybczynski, W. (2005). Architects who plagiarize. [online] Slate Magazine. Available at:

‌Giovannini, J. (1983). Architectural Imitation: Is It Plagiarism. The New York Times. [online] 17 Mar. Available at:

‌Mar 24 2021, S.K. | (n.d.). When does influence become plagiarism in architecture? [online] University Observer. Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2022].

‌Anon, (2019). Protecting copyrights of architectural works. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2022]. (n.d.). Plagiarism or Inspiration? [online] Available at:

Archinect. (n.d.). Never Meant to Copy, Only to Surpass: Plagiarism Versus Innovation in Architectural Imitation. [online] Available at:


Lakshmi Sundaram is an architect, muralist and graphic designer with an atypical and interdisciplinary outlook. Design being her finest channel of expression, strong narratives direct her work across all domains. Precisely, an aspiring little drop in a mighty ocean of design revolutions.