A Cloned Village: Copying Space, Borrowing Time


A UNESCO historic village in Austria, Hallstatt, has been physically copied to its last detail by a developer in Southern China. This act evokes different reactions regarding the ethic, legality and its result. The construction only took one year and has been opened for the first time to visitors recently. Although, the result and impacts have not been proved yet, with consideration to time and space matters, a critical analysis must be done to evaluate forces behind it and its impacts to society in new urban condition as well as discussion on the elements to realize a place. It can lead to the question regarding whose past and whose place is it including the issue of authenticity. This essay tries to question the success of the project and possible challenges to the new urbanism’s concept of time and space resulting from the act of copying an entire historical space.

Key Words: time, space, consumerism – capital, community, aura


Along with the increased and expanded economic power, people especially in middle class with rising income have more leisure time which made tourism and consumerism grow rapidly. It shows how the relations between money, space, and time as interlocking sources of social power transforms the quality of time and space and creating time and space compression where ‘world’ becomes smaller and connected through modern technologies. In this essay, the discussion of time and space is not related to the notion of distance and cyclical time but rather to the perception of time-space around a place influenced by the interactions within it. It will be centred on a case study of the Alpine village of Hallstatt in Austria which has been recreated in Southern China. Hallstatt is famous as a tourist attraction which listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Surrounded by mountain, lake and breath-taking natural scenery, most of the buildings in the village date back to centuries. However, recently one Chinese developer secretly copied the historic village as a high-end residential project and has stirred many reactions and debates, most of them coming from the indigenous residents of Hallstatt who have taken objection to the whole project. But the sudden rise in tourist inflow after the news came out has changed their mind. There were objections to the project within China itself, with some Chinese feeling that their country has its own unique and stylish local architecture, thus, importing and imitating another culture is not necessary.

This essay tries to question the success of the project and possible challenges to the new urbanism’s concept of time and space resulting from the act of copying an entire historical space. It leads to the question whose past and whose village it is as well as the issue of authenticity. This essay starts with brief discussion on the rise of tourism and consumerism culture, then, continues directly to the discussion of time and space which investigates the issue of copying a historic space with Hallstatt and its copy in China as the case study.


Figure 1: Hallstatt (Source: Inhabitat, Boris Stroujko)

A Cloned Village: Copying Space, Borrowing Time

After post-war period in 1960s, there was a shift away from the consumption of goods into the consumption of services (Harvey 1990, 267). Initially, mass tourism rises from the invention of railroad and various mode of transportation which made travel cheaper, more flexible and easier but especially since the development of air-flight carrier which allowing middle-class income people to go long distances in short time compare to previous mode of traveling, then the trend of ‘going for leisure’ is increasing. The improvement of industrial machinery makes speed of production increases, thus, the industry introduced five days’ work scheme. As a result, people have more time outside their works which allowing them to spend it on travelling. Additionally, another factor that affects the rises of tourism is the usage of English as a second language to communicate widely which brings more contact between people. Certainly, it has shortened the ‘space’ between people.

Above all, the experience of time and space itself has changed. The scientific and association attached to them have diminished, replaced by “aesthetic as a prime focus of social and intellectual concern, images dominate narratives, ephemerality and fragmentation take precedence over eternal truths and unified politics” (Harvey 1990, 328). The whole system in society is dominated by the circulation of capital, thus, dimensions of space and time are also always in constant dominancy of capital circulation. The notion of time and space compression is a result of the process of social life reproduction through mass-commodity production. The society constantly demands new wants and needs enabling the capitalist system to exploit these desires, transforms spaces, and speeds up the pace of life.

In modern world, the decreased of spatial distinctions mostly is caused by the mechanization of communication and media. This has been pointed out by Walter Benjamin through his evaluation of the work of art and its reproduction by the mechanical machine. Notably, those inventions have the ability to influence the production of space and it is considered as an important means to augment social power such as influence over the ways of representing space, as well as over the spaces of representation (Harvey 1990, 233). The booming of advertising and media images in the ‘1960s pop culture’ has come to play a very much more integrative role in the cultural practices and capitalism even until now. They are not only act as information or promotion agents to the public, but also actively acts to manipulate desires and tastes of society and sets the trend through images that may or may not have anything to do with the product. Those images serve to establish an identity in the market place which they can be mass-marketed instantaneously over space. The images of places and spaces become available for production as any other mass product. The development of cultural production and marketing on a global scale itself has been the key factor in time-space compression because it projected a musée imaginaire as David Harvey has pointed out in his book.

For the reason above, Guy Debord specifically explained that our society is characterized by the condition of instantaneity which is bombarded by rapid changing of products and images, thus, he named our society as ‘the society of spectacle’. It is dominated by commodity and consumerism which have impact on the unity and separation in social relationship. People become more and more trap into visual culture environment. This condition, thus, creating unstable psychological and structure in the society itself which made people is looking for something which they think is more stable and proven and one of it is the reversion of lost past images.

Nowadays, cities are promoted in the way like consumer products in free market using techniques of advertising image (Judd 1999, 4). Some cities possess qualities that make them an easy sell, while others must change their images and transform themselves into tourist attractions. According to Dennis Judd and Susan Fainstein, there are three basic types of tourist cities can be identified which are resort cities, tourist-historic cities and converted cities (Judd 1999, 262). However, now seems the classification must be added by one new type, purpose-created touristic-cities which is affected by development of technology, visual culture trend, consumerism, and so on. The movement of people to other places and countries brings culture and influence to their living space in new places. In the same way, tourism brings images of things and places they see back to their own home. Hence, it generates what we called as new entertainment economy.


Figure 2: Chinese Tourist in Hallstatt (Source: USA Today)

Indeed, this is what happened to Chinese society today along with their economic boom since a more liberal economic policy has been implemented by Deng Xiaoping in 1980s. The society became more prosperous and entered the consumerism culture in a very rapid speed which likely showing the desire to chase their backwardness before from the rest of the world, in this case, it can be seen from the increasing number of Chinese tourists. They would like to ‘see’ what they could not see and experience before. Furthermore, along with the globalization, big corporations have intensified their trans-national activities, which enable them to sell their standardized products in more and larger markets (Judd 1999, 145). More and more private developers control vast lands over boundaries of their own country. These cross-border developers resemble colonization in old time despite without the coercion to the locals. The effect of this modern colonization is the transplantation of culture into local spaces such as in the copy of city images like Venice’s urban setting into interior building in Macao or recently lively debated the copying of Hallstatt by Chinese. In our discussion of case study here, the copying of Hallstatt by them shows the points above. In fact, China has no lack of site tourism, but here capitalism and money power win in the consumerism demand and competition. It is noticed that the power of capital and the pursuit of monetary objectives can create the modifications of the qualities of space and time we have never seen before. By copying the entire village to its minute details, the new copy tries to romanticize the urban life of past, however, by replicating the tourist attraction into another same attraction, historical memory here is utilized primarily for sensory effect to gain economical profit. It has proven by many towns and cities which are constantly reorganizing themselves to create distinctive entertainment identities, either by manipulating local history and culture or by producing ‘fantasies’ of a past that never was there before.

The city as product and brand name are important in urban marketing as nowadays cities around the globe are competing to attract more tourists and investors. Thus, China borrowed the Hallstatt’s brand name for easy and quick marketing boost in order to save time instead to build from scratch. They made the copied city closer and easier to access for Chinese tourists. What Chinese does is like to create themed environment such as shopping malls or theme park in Disneyland, but they create this in bigger scale. Indeed, it signifies the triumph of market over place (Hannigan 1998, 194). It provides urban entertainment by creating illusory remake world. It offers the simulated experience and plays with the mind or perception of viewers. This type of themed environment tries to replicate historical and architectural images which significantly structure the original place. Accordance with that intention, by visiting it, people expect to experience the heritage, architecture and culture that make up its essence.


Figure 3: Hallstatt’s replica in China (Source: Inhabitat, Boris Stroujko)

John Jackson in his book ‘A Sense of Place, a Sense of Time’ believes that sense of place is something that we ourselves create in the course of time and it is the result of habit or custom (Jackson 1994, 251). But, other are disagree. On the contrary, they believe that a sense of place comes from our response to features which are already there either a beautiful natural setting or well-designed architecture. Though, sense of place or genius loci in Latin contains the notions of locality and the uniqueness quality of place but the locality term cannot really be defined. Therefore, society acts as mediators in the realization of place including its ‘senses’. Don Parkes and Nigel Thrift try to show in their essay how sense of place is ‘realized’ from “an activated individual who is a member of population system within which information is transmitted, filtered and received” (Carlstein 1978, 120). They proposed the notion of realized place which based on how spaces are structured by interaction of time dimension and space dimension as well as social system. It contains Timed-Spaces which according to them is the essence of place. The component which give structure to space and thus evokes the notion of place and “which are spaces defined according to the pattern assigned to them by corresponding patterns of time-use and time-allocation” (Carlstein 1978, 119). They believe that society forms a distinct hierarchy of times and timed spaces.


Figure 4: The realization of place scheme (Source: Carlstein, 1978)

Therefore, they suggest that realizing place is one way that man interprets the environment, however, in the case of copying a place this does not happen. In themed park model, social interaction is restricted. John Hannigan in his book notes that “it is nothing like walking down the street in your neighbourhood where it is normal to encounter a familiar face” (Hannigan 1998, 198). People who come to themed park are only accompanied by certain people all the time. He also claims the danger that themed attractions will substitute for and challenge activities formerly associated with local community. Usually, this urban created entertainment will adopt imported theme and bounds it around local elements or customs. But, in Hallstatt’s case, the creation of theme and space does not consider the local aspects. In fact sense of place is associated with qualities from awareness of the familiar environment, a ritual repetition, a sense of fellowship based on a shared experience (Jackson 1994, 159). It comes with sense of community that bound them together producing the unique quality of that community itself. What made the place significant is not its building and architecture style, but it is the event with people which take place there – cultural experience. The value from copying famous objects or sites is seen from the functional aspects of quality and quantity of experience they promise through it. All tourist attractions are cultural experiences. A cultural experience must represent the aspect of life from the community through its cultural productions as powerful agents in defining the scope, force and direction of a civilization (MacCannell 1999, 29).

In modern cultural production along with the development of modern materials, it is possible to replicated ancient buildings with amazing precision so that its authenticity can be put into doubt. This remark has been highlighted by Baudrillard in his ‘simulacrum’ which is explained as a state of such near perfect replication that the difference between the original and the copy becomes almost impossible to spot (Harvey 1990, 289). However, the ‘experience’ in the Chinese’ replicate village does not represent the ‘complete’ originality of the copied, Hallstatt. Regardles, Baudrillard’s explanation by his ‘simulacrum’, authenticity loss occurs in this case. As a matter of fact, for copying the space will not do the same with its ‘memory of time’. In the same way, the replacement of ‘space’ cannot replace back the ‘time’ which attached to it in the beginning. Certainly, the loss of the original space is the loss of its time and ‘aura’. Aura here is referring to the notion by Walter Benjamin. He accounts for ‘authenticity’ and ‘aura’ which distinguish the work of art and its replica as the result of reproduction process. Similarly, the replicate village in China is not like its original village in Austria, even though they imitate the details precisely. They cannot copy the aura and the ‘soul’ of the village because it transforms the meaning of a place from its original and genuine version to a commercial construction which tells a different story and sense of community in it. Human’s memories are short, thus, the forgotten time and memory will pass and become eternal in the text and images which are compressed in space and time. The new memory based on the new space will flourish and become new ‘time’. In this case, this made another Chinese city with ‘imported flavour’.

Based on discussions above and learning from the Hallstatt’s case, here I would like to suggest that there is also Spaced-Time in addition to the notion of Timed-Space proposed by Don Parkes and Nigel Thrift. Here, Spaced-Time shows how Time is represented back again in replication of Space that contains the Time before. This Time is represented back in the form of slices and fragmented, not in unity or narrative as its ‘original Time’. There are pauses of in-between these Timed-Space which make the viewer’s aware of the unoriginality in the created space. It is not like Yi-Fu Tuan’s definition of place as a pause in movement. Timed-Space is the idea of ‘borrowing time’ by represent it back in replication of ‘space’ in order to perceive time as it was in the original condition. However, Timed-Space is moving in one direction not along with its original represented by it. It shifts away to produce its own ‘aura’ through the events occur on it.


To conclude discussions above, we see greater influence of Western culture in Asian societies and vice versa. This interaction has collapsed spatial barriers making time and space compression increasingly evident, but it does not mean that the significance of time and space is decreasing. There are still elements of space such as its quality, sense of place, community and its aura which maintain its presence against the increasing abstractions of space. The active production and community interaction which occur in places with special qualities becomes an important factor in present day’s competition between localities, cities, regions and nations. What Chinese have tried to do by the replication of a ‘proven’ heritage site cannot be justified even in the name of preservation of the past memory because as a matter of fact, it is just for the economic gain. In this act of copying, they are trying to spaced-the-time intentionally which shows no capacity to represent the basic elements that constructs the original ‘event’ and so decrease the locational and experiential ‘present’. As architects and urban planners, we should critically ask ourselves the question on how the past can be used to build a new identity, likewise, how to make a design which stays rooted to its locality while staying significant to both the person and his community. In the end, with consideration to the notion of Timed-Space, there are still many possibilities of researches in the future which cannot be covered in this essay.


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Judd, Dennis R. and Susan S. Fainstein (ed). The Tourist City. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999.

Lynch, Kevin. What Time is This Place? Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1972.

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Laylin, Tafline. “World’s First Cloned Village in China Is Now Open to Visitors”. Inhabitat.
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News24. “Chinese secretly copy Austrian town”. News24.
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