In the heart of Europe has for millenia stood Paris, France. One of the world’s great cultural centres, the City of Lights draws in more tourists per year than any other and by its famous landmarks and celebrated architecture, it could be instantly recognised even by billions who will never visit it.
Around 6,000 miles east stands Tianducheng resort, in China‘s Zhejiang province. The suburban town too boasts some of Paris’s most spectacular sights, only set against the backdrop of sprawling housing estates unfamiliar to the French capital’s inner arrondisements. Been there over a decade now.
The town forms part of China’s “duplicature” movement, which sees the architectural marvels of faraway places snatched and thrown up among new urban developments around the country. One photographer, Francois Prost, became fascinated with Tianducheng’s particular brand of “duplicature” and made it his mission to capture and compare the new builds and the originals.
As a Parisian himself, Prost could photograph the original landmarks easily enough before heading to Tianducheng, where he spent a week capturing the replicas while learning a little about the town.
“Renowned as a perfect decor for wedding photography, Tianducheng is first of all a pretty average inhabited suburb neighbourhood for middle class people,” Prost said after releasing the series.
“It used to be described as a ghost town a few years ago, but the population rose to 30,000 inhabitants in 2017 and is still growing.”
Prost has released the series in a photobook, published by Hoxton Mini Press, which presents photographs of the Parisian originals side-by-side with the Tianducheng replicas.
The Eiffel Tower is there, of course, as are lesser known landmarks including the Fontaine de l’Observatoire. There’s even a mock-Mona Lisa. When the old and new are viewed side-by-side it can be difficult to tell which is which but in many cases the background gives it away: Paris is not famed for it’s giant towerblocks nor is it closely flanked by lush, green mountains.
Tianducheng is certainly something special but its architects are far from alone in having taken such direct inspiration from buildings already built. Tech giant Huawei pushed the “duplicature” envelope last year when it opened a new business campus in China’s Guangdong province formed of scaled down replicas of several pretty European towns including Heidelberg, Germany and Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic.
In Suzhou, a few dozen miles northeast of Tianducheng, a double-size replica of London’s Tower Bridge opened in 2012, though it has since been given a makeover by authorities to make it fit better in its surroundings. China could even be said to be late to the game: Prost also has a series comparing Venice, Italy with the duplicate built for a massive hotel resort in Las Vegas at the end of the last millenium.