Folly

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In architecture, a folly is a building usually constructed strictly for aesthetic pleasure.[1] Originally, buildings were made to provide shelter or to house people. Follies are just decoration; they no longer have a building's original function. They were first constructed to put accents into parks and estates. "Folly" is used in the sense of fun or light-heartedness, not in the sense of something ill-advised.

Wimpole's Folly, Cambridgeshire, England, built in the 1700s to resemble Gothic-era ruins
Decorative ruin in Schönbrunn, the royal palace in Vienna
Decorative aqueduct in Arkadia, Poland

Characteristics[change | change source]

In general, follies have the following properties:

  • They are buildings, or parts of buildings. This makes them clearly different from other garden ornaments such as sculpture.
  • They have no purpose other than as an ornament. Often they have some of the appearance of a building constructed for a particular purpose, but this appearance is a sham.
  • They are purpose-built. Follies are deliberately built as ornaments.
  • They are often eccentric in design or construction. This is not strictly necessary; however, it is common for these structures to call attention to themselves through unusual details or form.
  • There is often an element of fakery in their construction. Perhaps the best example of this is the make-believe ruin: a folly which pretends to be the remains of an old building but which was in fact constructed in that state.

In England, these structures are also called "eye-catchers". This points to their basically decorative nature.

Related types[change | change source]

Follies fall within the general realm of fanciful and impractical architecture, and whether a particular structure is a folly is sometimes a matter of opinion. However, there are several types which are related but which can be distinguished from follies.

  • Fantasy and novelty buildings are essentially the converse of follies. Follies often look like real, usable buildings, but never are; novelty buildings are usable, but have fantastic shapes. The many American shops and water towers in the shapes of commonplace items, for example, are not properly follies.
  • Eccentric structures may resemble follies, but the mere presence of eccentricity is not proof that a building is a folly. Many mansions and castles are quite eccentric, but being purpose-built to be used as residences, they are not properly follies.
  • Some structures are popularly referred to as "follies" because they failed to fulfill their intended use. Their design and construction may be foolish, but in the architectural sense, they are not follies.
  • Visionary art structures frequently blur the line between artwork and folly, if only because it is rather often hard to tell what intent the artist had. The word "folly" carries the connotation that there is something frivolous about the builder's intent, and it is hard to say whether a structure like the Watts Towers was constructed "seriously". Some works (such as the massive complex by Ferdinand Cheval) are considered as follies because they are in the form of useful buildings, but are plainly constructions of extreme and intentional impracticality.
  • Amusement parks, fairgrounds, and expositions often have fantastical buildings and structures. Some of these are follies, and some are not; the distinction, again, comes in their usage. Shops, restaurants, and other amusements are often housed in strikingly odd and eccentric structures, but these are not follies. On the other hand, fake structures which serve no other purpose than decoration are also common, and these are follies.

History[change | change source]

Follies began as decorative accents on the great estates of the late 16th and early 17th centuries but they flourished especially in the two centuries which followed. Many estates were blessed with picturesque ruins of monastic houses and (in Italy) Roman villas; others, lacking such buildings, constructed their own sham versions of these romantic structures. Such structures were often dubbed "[name of architect or builder]'s Folly", after the single individual who commissioned or designed the project. However, very few follies are completely without a practical purpose. Apart from their decorative aspect, many originally had a use which was lost later, such as hunting towers. Follies are misunderstood structures, according to The Folly Fellowship, a charity that exists to celebrate the history and splendour of these often neglected buildings.

Follies are often found in parks or large grounds of houses and stately homes. Some were deliberately built to look partially ruined. They were especially popular from the end of the 16th century to the 18th century. Theme parks and world's fairs have often contained "follies", although such structures do serve a purpose of attracting people to those parks and fairs.

Famine Follies[change | change source]

The Irish Potato Famine of 1845-49 led to the building of several follies. The society of the day held that laissez faire, not a welfare state, was the appropriate form of civil management. The concept of a welfare state was a century away, and at that time reward without labour, even to those in need, was seen as misguided. However, to hire the needy for work on useful projects would deprive existing workers of their jobs. Thus, construction projects termed "famine follies" came to be built. These include: roads in the middle of nowhere, between two seemingly random points; screen and estate walls; piers in the middle of bogs; etc.[2]

Examples[change | change source]

Follies can be found worldwide, but there seem to be many in Great Britain.

The Bory Castle at Székesfehérvár, Hungary
Swallow's Nest near Yalta, Crimea, Ukraine (1912)
Lucy the Elephant in Margate City, New Jersey, USA

France[change | change source]

Malaysia[change | change source]

Hungary[change | change source]

India[change | change source]

Ireland[change | change source]

Italy[change | change source]

Russia[change | change source]

Ukraine[change | change source]

United Kingdom[change | change source]

United States[change | change source]

Other websites[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. "folly (architecture) -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia". www.britannica.com. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/212366/folly. Retrieved 2009-05-24.
  2. Howley, James. 1993. The Follies and Garden Buildings of Ireland. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-05577-3

Bibliography[change | change source]

  • Barton, Stuart Monumental Follies Lyle Publications, 1972
  • Folly Fellowship, The Follies Magazine, published quarterly
  • Folly Fellowship, The Follies Journal, published annually
  • Folly Fellowship, The Foll-e, an electronic bulletin published monthly and available free to all
  • Hatt, E. M. Follies National Benzole, London 1963
  • Headley, Gwyn & Meulenkamp, Wim, Follies Grottoes & Garden Buildings, Aurum Press, London 1999
  • Headley, Gwyn & Meulenkamp, Wim, Follies — A Guide to Rogue Architecture, Jonathan Cape, London 1990
  • Headley, Gwyn & Meulenkamp, Wim, Follies — A National Trust Guide, Jonathan Cape, London 1986
  • Headley, Gwyn Architectural Follies in America, John Wiley & Sons, New York 1996
  • Howley, James The Follies and Garden Buildings of Ireland Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1993
  • Jackson, Hazelle Shellhouses and Grottoes, Shire Books, England, 2001
  • Jones, Barbara Follies & Grottoes, Constable, London 1953 & 1974
  • Meulenkamp, Wim Follies — Bizarre Bouwwerken in Nederland en België, Arbeiderpers, Amsterdam, 1995