Austria official endorses Chinese Hallstatt replica

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The Minmetals Hallstatt project [file photo]

The Minmetals Hallstatt project [file photo]

A real estate project in Huizhou, Guangdong Province, became the center of a public controversey for copying the layout and archetecture of Hallstatt, an Austrian village both a renowned tourist destination and a UNESCO world heritage site.

As the project’s designers did not first ask permissions from Austrian authorities, disputes over its ethical implications intensified as the project neared its completion. The criticisms were further fueled by developer Minmetals Land Ltd., who has ignored outcries from the general public while targetting only China’s ultra wealthy as potential suitors.

On June 1, Consul Martin Wolle of Consulate General of the Republic of Austria in Guangzhou and Hallstatt Mayor Alexander Scheutz attended a cultural exchange ceremony hosted by Minmetals Land Ltd.

Wolle assumed the role of a peacekeeper in the disputes, saying that as an Austrian, ”we are proud to see there is another Austrian style town on the other side of the world.”

Minmetals’ executive deputy manager, Shi Lingyun, appeared relieved by the consul’s comments. He said: “The Minmetals Hallstatt project is not a duplicate of the Hallstatt town in Austria, or rather it only borrows some architectural features from many towns in Austria, one of which is Hallstatt.”

The presence and tame words of the Austrian officials could serve to maintain a booming growth of tourism businesses in Hallstatt from China, perhaps partly due to the advent of the replica controversy. At the ceremony, Wolle highlighted the drastic increase of Chinese tourists in Hallstatt, with 8,700 in 2011 when the controversy surfaced, compared to only 47 in 2005.

“It happened out of blue, which brought with good ecnomic profits to us,” the Austrian consul said. “We would love to have this increase continues. ”

The project in China apparently also benefited from the public attention. Designed as a top level residential project, the location has become a new tourist resort destination in Huizhou and in the Pearl River Delta region.

“I can’t simply say that the more disputes, the better we will be. But [that the project benefited from the disputes] is indeed an interesting’ fact,” Shi said.

While the Minmetals Hallstatt project seemed to have emerged from the controversies financially ahead, it has drawn deep frowns from the architectural community in China.

A chief architect in a national real estate enterprise said: “It’s all right to learn something from foreign countries’ architectural styles. But we have to respect our own history and culture. We need to create out own style based on borrowing others’ features, not making replicas.”

Famous architect Ma Yansong also supports originality, saying that simply making replicas of a foreign style is not advisable.

The location for this cultural departure could also be significant. Huizhou, where the Minmetals Hallstatt project is located, is a famous historical and cultural city, known to be blessed with both mountain and lakefront scenaries. New projects in the scenic areas, however, have incorporated Western designs rather than styles that could show off local customs or culture.

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