Classical architecture is playful, essentially. Classical architecture is a joy, a delight, a beauty well-loved and well liked. Just ask anyone. All and anyone will admit the pleasure in seeing, the pleasure of being in a classical house, a classical bank, a classical museum, a classical folly. Especially being in a classical folly, that dream of ideal existence made real. For the most part, all the works of man are folly. The best of follies are aspirations to Beauty. The worst, well … most follies fade away for lack of love. Just as well.
The classical folly is endearing because beautiful, because sincere. Not so the modernistic folly, because the modernistic folly is sarcastic; but then, all modernistic architecture is folly, whether a museum, a house, a bank … the sarcasm is dull, predictable, and a folly wants surprise, and beauty, that one characteristic essential to human pleasure.
You might like to know: folly, from the French, folie, means “foolishness”. You might think of a folly as a queen’s jester at a king’s court, the madcap inanity that by insanity tells truth to society … well, to the king, the queen, the court of public opinion. Truthfully, a classical folly nestled in a deer crowded grove, atop a butterfly breezy hill, islanded above a pond of gossamer finned gold fishes revolving on a planet at 1,000 miles-an-hour around a circling sun that hurtles through a universe of unnumbered stars is silly, yet beautiful, pleasurable, and necessary to creatures of our type.
We have all seen the domestic statue of a gnome, garden-tending, we have all seen the sundial of an herb garden, though few tulips read the shadow’s time, we have all appreciated the punctuation of some trellis, gazebo, fruitless ornamental tree, or other impractical folly in the yards of neighbors, family, friends, kings. These, the little gifts of pleasure to neighborhood. The great classical architectural folly of the country estate is alike those gifts, though in ambition, grand, an ornamental gift to civilization and the great family of man.
The follies at Wentworth House come first to mind, and lately, Q. Terry’s folly at Walverton Hall. There are follies in Italian Renaissance gardens, English Enlightenment lawns, and these have much in common with picturesque ruins of Greek and Roman temples, Romanesque castles, and Gothic cathedrals. The Landmark Trust is rich in follies, architectural curiosities that can be rented for brief or for extended stays. What, though technically a folly has no purpose beyond ornamental pleasure, seems to me that a classical folly has much in common with a tiny house. True, though a tiny house is practically mechanical, and a folly is essentially beautiful, yet the two might wed to create a wealthy progeny of classical delights.
Here I think of Shinkel’s Pamona Temple, Plečnik’s Jožamurka and his chapels at Zale, Richardson’s Alexandra Gate Lodge, Little’s chapel at Nunhead, Wade Weismann’s Nashville Folly, that little Ledoux pyramid, the tiny delights of Versailles, Leoni’s Blenheim Pavilion, and a hundred other follies of the type. You will notice that designers of follies are first, creative artists, and then persnickety architects. A textbook Palladian pattern-book design is not a folly, it is a mechanical thing, alike an I am Pei office building, all bolts and no flowers. A classical folly is a delight, alike a surprising bloom come to blossom; a folly is a favored abode suited to bookish, humane pleasures, and this is why the modernistic has no folly worthy of note: the modernistic is mechanic, not humane.
Soon, follies suited to a humane simplicity, to beauty, to surprise, to delight, will be linked here and posted in plan & elevation at the House-Plan section of The Beautiful Home.
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Featured image: Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s Pomona Temple, Potsdam, 1801. credit: Wolf
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