Archive for November, 2007

Teatubed John Radford

Often today it seems the line between follies and works of art in public places, is increasingly blurred. With fewer opportunities to build permanent follies, in urban environments, artists and architects are constructing temporary sculptures and fanciful buildings which reference the past and the future to stir our imagination.

One such artist is the Auckland based “tactile archivist” John Radford,  a man haunted by the ghosts of destroyed buildings. Radford has made it his occupation to document the buildings of old Auckland just before the bulldozers move in. The spirit of these old buildings are evoked in TIP, a sculpture/folly/ruins collection in Ponsonby’s Western Park which was his initial response to the redeveloped city. TIP comprises replicas of details of three buildings demolished in the Eighties, embedded in the ground.

But even there things are not what they seem. The installation includes Teatube,a “hidden interior work” located within VIC, the sculpture closest to the park’s  northern corner on Ponsonby Road.  Through a 2 inch window viewers can glimpse the Sky Room inspired by the tea room at the top of the  Milne & Choyce Building, a department store demolished in 1984. “It was the most lavish interior that Auckland has ever had.”

Disembodied bits of Auckland city sit within this mythic interior and replicas of an aged elevator engine sit in the tunnel alluding to floors below or above. 

Find out more about John Radford and his work at http://www.johnradford.co.nz/index.php/Artists-CV.html (To find out more about Teatube look in the heading “Interior Interior Works”).

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original rome grotto 2

Remote control camera image of grotto under the Palatine Hill in Rome

OK it’s not a modern folly, in fact it’s an ancient grotto but it’s only just been found and I am so excited I have to include it here.

My favourite follies are artificial grottoes, decorated with shells,  which were “reinvented” during the Renaissance in Italy in the 16th century, as copies of the grottoes of ancient Rome.

Now a new grotto has been found, over 50 feet below the Palatine Hill in Rome which Italian archaeologists cautiously (I assume that is as cautious as Italians ever are) have speculated might be the original grotto built by Romulus or was it Remus as the foundation of their palace on the Palatine Hill.

A camera was lowered into the cave and photographed a crypt shaped ceiling decorated with shells and marble. Now they are looking for the original entrance.

There are early reports that the grotto, together with Nero’s famous frescoes, maybe open to the public next spring. I’ll believe that when I see it but whenever it does open I will be one of the first in line for a viewing.

How Exciting I can’t wait


Here is a press report by Ariel David of the Associated Press Agency:

20th November 2007

Archaeologists on Tuesday unveiled an underground grotto believed to have been revered by ancient Romans as the place where a wolf nursed the city’s legendary founder Romulus and his twin brother Remus.

Decorated with seashells and colored marble, the vaulted sanctuary is buried 52 feet inside the Palatine hill, the palatial center of power in imperial Rome, the archaeologists said at a news conference.

In the past two years, experts have been probing the space with endoscopes and laser scanners, fearing that the fragile grotto, already partially caved-in, would not survive a full-scale dig, said Giorgio Croci, an engineer who worked on the site.

The archaeologists are convinced that they have found the place of worship where Romans believed a she-wolf suckled Romulus and Remus, the twin sons of the god of war Mars who were abandoned in a basket and left adrift on the Tiber.

Thanks to the wolf, a symbol of Rome to this day, the twins survived, and Romulus founded the city, becoming its first king after killing Remus in a power struggle.

Ancient texts say the grotto known as the “Lupercale”_ from “lupa,” Latin for she-wolf — was near the palace of Augustus, Rome’s first emperor, who was said to have restored it, and was decorated with a white eagle.

That symbol of the Roman Empire was found atop the sanctuary’s vault, which lies just below the ruins of the palace built by Augustus, said Irene Iacopi, the archaeologist in charge of the Palatine and the nearby Roman Forum.

Augustus, who ruled from the late 1st century B.C. to his death in the year 14, was keen on being close to the places of Rome’s mythical foundation and used the city’s religious traditions to bolster his hold on power, Iacopi said.

“The Lupercale must have had an important role in Augustus’ policies,” she said. “He saw himself as a new Romulus.”

Andrea Carandini, a professor of archaeology at Rome’s La Sapienza University and an expert on the Palatine, said the grotto is almost certainly the “Lupercale.”

“The chances that it’s not are minimal,” said Carandini, who did not take part in the dig. “It’s one of the greatest discoveries ever made.”

Most of the sanctuary is filled with earth, but laser scans allowed experts to estimate that the circular structure has a height of 26 feet and a diameter of 24 feet, Croci said.

Archaeologists at the news conference were divided on how to gain access to the “Lupercale.”

Iacopi said a new dig would start soon to find the grotto’s original entrance at the bottom of the hill. Carandini suggested enlarging the hole at the top through which probes have been lowered so far, saying that burrowing at the base of the hill could disturb the foundations of other ruins.

The Palatine is honeycombed with palaces and other ancient monuments, from the 8th-century B.C. remains of Rome’s first fledgling huts to a medieval fortress and Renaissance villas. But the remains are fragile and plagued by collapses, leaving more than half of the hill, including Augustus’ palace, closed to the public.

Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli said the first area to benefit from an extensive, $17.5 million restoration of the hills’ ruins will be Augustus’ palace, scheduled to reopen in February after being closed for decades

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airplane-house2 nigeria by said jammal

The Airplane House Nigeria by Said Jammal

Strictly speaking a folly should be a building with no useful purpose. So houses don’t really qualify, or do they? What if the convention that form follows function has been completely abandoned, if the builder has not just torn up the form book but comprehensively trashed it to realise their wildest fantasies. The really obsessed even build their personal follies themselves like Lebanese engineer Said Jammal whose Airplane house in Nigera is pictured above. Could such an obsession be said to denote folly in the builder? Would such a house be a folly?

American real estate agent Roxanne Ardary would probably say yes. On her website she has collected a set of extraordinary houses from around the world, of which the very least that could be said is that they denote folly in the builder.  Below are two more, proving that folly building transcends all races and geographical boundaries.


The Crooked House in Poland

football_house Malawi by Dutch architect Jan Sonkieh2

The Football House in Malawi

You can find plenty more where these came from on Roxanne’s site.


No doubt I shall return to it in future.

For now surf and enjoy……..

toodle pip!


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philsstonefolly from reclaimed church standstone

If you fancy a modern garden folly, but lack the imagination or time, to build one, you can always consult the folly designer Phil Game. Phil’s work has recently been brought to my attention by Shedworking and includes some very cheerful and eccentric sheds. But his scope is wider than that. Pictured above is a  folly tower, Phil’s Folly, built  from reclaimed church sandstone.  I have cut and pasted the blurb about Phil from his web site Pure Folly (hyperlink below) which has some interesting designs and is worth a visit.

“About Phil Game

I attended Hornsey College of Art in the late ‘60s – a great time to be an art student in London – where I specialised in graphic design.

After working in London agencies for a couple of years, I went freelance in 1972. In 1974 I set up a publishing business, and in 1980 I set up my own design studio. At the same time I moved to a derelict old barn outside Cambridge which I converted myself over the following years, thereby acquiring the practical building skills that are necessary to construct safe follies. I built my first folly in my own garden, from stone reclaimed from an old church.

Since then I have used my designer skills on many individual garden buildings and structures. I have successfully collaborated together with one of England’s best-known garden designers, Marney Hall, for several years now.”

And below is a splendid shed for our shed fanciers: Moulder’s Cabin.

You can see more of Phil’s designs on his website Pure Folly. They will also feature in : ‘Shedworking: the alternative workplace revolution’ to be published in July 2008 by The Friday Project. Look out for it.

Moulder’s Cabin

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James Turrell at the extinct Roden Volcano in ArizonaThe Sky Spaces of James Turrell (1943-)

I first encountered Kielder Forest, in northern Northumberland many years ago when I was walking the Pennine Way. It was impressive but rather soulless with the conifer plantations smothering the original landscape. At that time the reservoir was under construction. 

I first encountered the “sky spaces”  of James Turrell, nearly as long ago, at an Exhibition on London’s South Bank. I remember he had built a small pavilion on the top of the building where you could sit and watch the changing sky through an opening in the roof. It seems a very simple thing to do but the effect is quite extraordinary once experienced.

I bought a catalogue at that first Exhibition in London which explained that this was just one of many of Turrell’s “sky spaces”, the largest being a crater in Arizona which he was hollowing out in a 20 year project. The artist himself was a keen amateur pilot which also influenced his obsession with the changing skies.

Since then I have read about Mr. Turrell at various intervals, designing a sky space in a grotto in Ireland and making a viewing pavilion for the eclipse in Cornwall a few years ago.  (I read that it was built on slightly the wrong orientation, so nothing could be seem from within, but that may have been just malicious gossip).

There are examples of Turrell’s sky spaces around the UK including Ireland, Northumberland (Kielder Forest) and in Yorkshire.

 James Turrell on his sky space in Kielder Forest

James Turrell on his sky space installation in the Kielder Forest

 “Kielder Skyspace is a buried cylindrical chamber, entered through a tunnel and capped by a roof with a 3m diameter circular opening in its centre. Around the base of the inside wall is a continuous seat above which all surfaces have a white, visually uninterrupted surface. Behind the seating, low-energy light sources are arranged to give a continuous ring of ambient light illuminating the walls and ceiling.

“Visitors to the Skyspace will find themselves in the middle of this clear, precise chamber. From the seating, the artist’s precise manipulation of interior and exterior light causes the sky seen through the roof opening to seem an almost solid form. The Kielder Skyspace works on the measured and delicately balanced play between artificial, interior light and the northern natural light of the Kielder landscape.

“During the changing light conditions at dusk and dawn, visitors to the work can expect to experience a rich display of tone and colour.” mobile.orbit.zkm.de/?q=node/309

        The Deer Shelter at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

       The Deer Shelter at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

In Yorkshire, The Art Fund, the UK’s leading art charity, commissioned a permanent Skyspace by Turrell at Yorkshire Sculpture Park  (YSP)  within the Park’s 18th-century Grade II Listed building – the deer shelter.

“The Deer Shelter Skyspace consists of a large square chamber with an aperture cut into the roof. Through this aperture the visitor is offered a heightened vision of the sky, seemingly transformed into a trompe l’oeil painting.”

There are other art installations in Kielder Forest and by the reservoir which may appeal to folly fanciers everywhere:

Chris Drury’s Wave Chamber: a drystone cone which has a camera obscura incorporated into its central chimney. A mirror reflects light from the surface of the reservoir into a lens that, in turn, projects it on to a circular concrete screen on the floor of the chamber.

The Belvedere, which was commissioned as a waiting room at one of the stopping-off points for the Kielder Water ferry. Made of stainless steel, with a yellow skylight and visor-like window aperture,  the long narrow view of water and forest you get from inside echoes the linear nature of the landscape at this point.

Tower Knowe Visitor Centre (0870 240 3549, www.kielder.org), near the dam on the southern side of the reservoir, is open daily 10am-6pm (closes 4pm in October).

Visitors can stay at Leaplish cabins, at Keilder’s Waterside park – these are about to be renovated and the Hollybush Inn in Greenhaugh. 

Map image

The Hollybush Inn (01434 240391, www.thehollybushinn.co.uk), Greenhaugh, just outside the valley, is an excellent base with simple clean rooms and good home cooking: £27 per person b & b, sharing, or £35 for single occupancy; starters from £3.50, main courses £7.50; weekend set menu from £12.95.

Find out more about Kielder Forest here http://www.northumberland.gov.uk/VG/kielder-redesdale.html

This is the Yorkshire Sculpture Parks web site http://www.ysp.co.uk

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