And the garden

When modern architecture goes outside

When is it stealing?

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I have a rule: if the artist or creator is still alive, I won’t buy the knockoff.  I will either save up for the original or buy something else that I can afford (hence the amount of IKEA in my home).  Or – and this is actually much better – I will find a local artist or maker and commission something bespoke.

If the creator of the iconic piece I yearn for is dead, however, the needle on my moral compass goes into a tailspin.

Knock offs of Le Corbusier and Eileen Gray

There are two knockoffs in the photo above: the Eileen Gray side table (we have a pair) and the ubiquitous Le Corbusier chaise (in pony skin). I got all three over a decade ago, before I formulated my views on design copyright and unlicensed reproductions.

It’s not that licensed E1027 side tables just weren’t available to me: why, a couple of clicks on ARAM’s website and I could have had a pair, in 4-6 weeks, for a shade under £1000, plus some £150 delivery.  Or I could take my pick from the dozens of knockoffs a simple Google search brings up, ranging from £50-£250 per table, within 7 days and for £12 delivery.

Ditto the LC4 Chaise Longue: £3,300 vs. knockoffs starting for £170.

As it happens, design karma may well have been involved in that last purchase, since after a few years the pony skin (horse lovers relax, it’s cow hide) started shedding like a labrador and now anyone wearing dark clothing who rashly sits on it subsequently has their back covered in fine white hairs that cling, annoyingly.  Although, the same is also true for an inordinately expensive and unimpeachably authentic impala hide handbag* I bought while on safari, so shedding might just be a property of hide in general.

In planning our house, I really wanted these glorious hanging lights designed by Vancouver designer Omer Arbel for Bocci over our dining table (and I discovered them way before they were so successful, from the now defunct but still useful archive SlowHomeStudio.  Go me.).

I couldn’t afford as many of the originals as I needed for the space, and I didn’t live close enough to go to their annual sale. So I started searching for knockoffs online, and I did find them. And that’s when I discovered that personally, my moral compass is not OK with ripping off a young designer, towards the start of his/her career, who has created something beautiful and functional, for which he should get the reward, and which will give him and his company the financial security to invent more amazing stuff to add to the great design treasury that lifts our hearts.  I probably won’t feel the same duty to his heirs, but I am OK with that.

As a result of my principled stance, the space above our dining table remains bare, and we eat in candlelit obscurity while I try to squirrel away enough money to commission a local ceramicist to design something for us.  I sense this is the way to go, and I will let you know how I get on.

I acknowledge that the excellent and very human architectural musings from Bob Borson at Life of an Architect have shaped my views – especially this post and thought-provoking comments –  as have the brilliant posts on design in general from Seattle-based Build LLC architects & builders.

But I wasn’t expecting to find the same issues cropping up in the garden.

This below is the eastern facade of the multi-storey car park beside the Olympia public swimming pool, in Dundee.  I think the external treatment is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, and I frequently stop in front of it to adore it.  I knew right away that I had to find a way to incorporate something like it into my garden.


The inside of the carpark reveals the very straightforward construction: rectangular metal grids with horizontal bars running across them. Short lengths of plastic tubing are threaded onto the bars, and a small steel plate has its top edge molded over the plastic tube, securing the plate to the grid while allowing the bottom edge to swing freely back and forth.  Shouldn’t be that hard, I thought, but it might be even easier to buy it directly from whoever supplied the car park builder.



A bit of digging revealed the builder, and their supplier, and then the information that “the concept was pioneered by American environmental artist Ned Kahn. He constructed a “wind veil” 13 years ago on a parking garage in Charlotte, North Carolina, and it has now been used on a number of major buildings in the United States.”

(This video collection catalogues Ned Kahn’s mesmerizing, enchanting, transporting kinetic sculptures involving wind, water, light, fog and even electricity.)

Now there’s a line beyond which homage to and influenced or inspired by becomes outright copying – stealing – and I’m not totally sure where that line is. Did the supplier copy Ned Kahn’s work? The concept, sure, but can or should anyone copyright such a concept? The technique? From what I can make out, the technique they used is different to any used in Kahn’s work.  I would be interested to know what Ned Kahn thinks.

And what about me? I am going to copy this concept, somehow, in some form, at some domestic scale, by hook or by crook, for my  garden. Where do I stand?

Thoughts, anyone? Where’s your line?



* Our South African friends later told me, rocking with mirth, that it was the equivalent of wearing a musical ‘See you Jimmy’ hat down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.


One thought on “When is it stealing?

  1. A commenter on my FB page – talented garden designer and teacher Diane Pyper – suggested it’s all in the 10% rule: change at least 10% and you’ve made it yours. Without that, there would never be successive progress.

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