Architectural Follies

From on January 16, 2009 in General

Palace of Fine Arts

I was breezing through San Francisco over the holidays and caught a glimpse of The Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina District. I couldn’t stop for a stroll-around this time, but I have many happy memories of wandering around there with one of my sisters, enjoying the beauty of the city. Did you know The Palace of Fine Arts is an architectural folly?

A folly, according to Encyclopedia Britannica is, “In architecture, an eccentric, generally nonfunctional (and often deliberately unfinished) structure erected to enhance a romantic landscape. Follies were particularly in vogue in England in the 18th and early 19th century. They might resemble medieval towers, ruined castles overgrown with vines, or crumbling Classical temples complete with fallen, eroded columns. In the U.S., the term has been applied to ornate gazebos. It may also be applied to any unusual building that is extravagant or whimsical in style.”

Arts & Living California Magazine’s blog features a recent post about architectural follies, and The Palace of Fine Arts, which was a focal point in the international 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, is one of several photographed examples of this remarkable building genre.

Taj Mahal BoatAnother example pictured in the post is the million- dollar Taj Mahal houseboat, which is three stories tall and boasts marble floors, an elevator, hot tub, two master suites, and two kitchens. It sits on the breakwater at the Sausalito Yacht Harbor. Although most architectural follies serve no function other than delighting the owners or – if open to the public – the people who enjoy them simply for their beauty and eccentricity, this unique houseboat was definitely designed with functionality in mind.

There are a couple of marvelous castle follies at (exploring the universe of knowledge), along with some great information, including these tidbits:

  • In England, these structures are also called “eye-catchers,” indicating their basically decorative nature.
  • 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.
  • 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.

For lovers of art and architecture, the study of architectural follies can be a delightful hobby or line of pleasurable investigation.’s feature on the subject lists dozens of examples in many countries, many of which include links.

I know one builder who is using the downtime of the current season to build a small folly on his grounds using materials he’s collected over the years. What a creative way to showcase his skills and have a marvelous time while he’s at it. He assures me there’s no deadline for completion…