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Recently tenured Associate Professor Amanda Reeser Lawrence was awarded a 2016-17 Interdisciplinary Research Sabbatical to initiate a collaboration with the School of Law around the subjects of copyright and architecture. The Interdisciplinary Research Sabbatical is a pilot program begun through the Office of the Provost.

The aim of her project is threefold: 1) To develop relationships and establish research collaborations between faculty in the School of Architecture, the College of Arts Media and Design, and the School of Law 2) To support the foregoing goal through an interdisciplinary roundtable series that brings together faculty from both colleges, along with select outside experts, on the subjects of architecture and copyright 3) To build a foundation for future collaboration between the colleges, supported through joint grant applications for federal funding to continue this research.

During her sabbatical year, Lawrence will take up the issue of architectural copyright. It wasn’t until very recently that architectural buildings were afforded specific legal protection under copyright law. When the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act (AWCPA) was passed in 1990, it was the first time in American history that buildings, and not simply drawings, of an architect were protected and copyrightable as such. Although in effect for over 25 years, there has been little scholarly consideration of the AWCPA, and no research that brings together the expertise of architectural and legal scholars.

The issue of architectural copyright has taken on particular urgency in recent decades, particularly in regards to Chinese architects who unabashedly replicate Western buildings and even entire towns. With the global reach of images and the ever-expanding technological possibilities for reproducing buildings, this “duplitecture” has become even easier to create. These recent examples, however, are part of a much longer intellectual history and connect to broader questions in regards to copies and originals in architecture: How is a copy defined? What if an architect copies a design before the original structure is even created? Can a copy precede an original?

Lawrence plans to trace historical conceptions of terms related to copying and architecture, and to study the meaning an application of architectural concepts deployed in the law. Terms such as: “transformation,” “derivative works,” “substantial similarity” and even “useful” and “decorative,” all of which are used in the AWCPA, have never been precisely studied in terms of their architectural application. Their specific meaning and disciplinary traditions offer tools to develop a more nuanced discussion of architecture and copyright. Her project is thus an effort to translate between these two very different discursive fields.