Architectural follies at MOCA Pacific Design Center

After spending countless hours poring over images of architectural follies from around the world, L.A.-based architects Frank Escher and Ravi GuneWardena weren’t content with merely displaying their selections for “Folly -- The View From Nowhere,” at MOCA Pacific Design Center; they had to design their own.

“Folly I,” a behemoth structure constructed inside the exhibit space, offers a mock 360-degree view of L.A.

Organized along with MOCA curator Philipp Kaiser, the exhibit revolves around the site-specific folly created by Escher and GuneWardena, who were fascinated with the colorful, whimsical buildings designed by Cesar Pelli.


The 24-foot-high “Folly I” is based on the Vastu Purusha Mandala, a square grid chart used to orient a structure and its inhabitants to the cosmos.

Escher and GuneWardena imagined an impossible view of L.A. combining the various elements that make up the city: the beach, the mountains, houses and freeways.

“There is no place in L.A. where you can see all four elements together so we created a folly with its own artificial landscape -- an extension of what follies did in the 18th century,” Escher said.

“The English word ‘fool’ is derived from ‘folies,’ a mid-1600s Portuguese dance where one twirls until dizzy and loses control of all senses,” Escher explained

In a review of Frank Gehry’s Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London’s Kensington Gardens, architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable stated “the virtue of a folly is that it provides the freedom to explore without rules.”

The exhibit provides a chance to survey a collection of 100 images of architectural follies including Lucy the Elephant in Margate, N.J., and the Pantheon at Stourhead in Wiltshire, England.

Typically serving as memorials, meeting points or observation towers, traditional follies were commissioned by the aristocracy and found on private estates, gardens or parks in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Original forms were based on Greek and Roman temples.

Inconsequential, yet purposeful

“Follies are like hybrids,” said GuneWardena. “On one hand they are seen as inconsequential and on the other hand there is an aesthetic purpose.”

Escher and GuneWardena’s main requirement in their selection process was that all follies on display have an element of pleasure and delight.

The earliest criteria of a folly was a subservient building, serving a minor purpose to the main house such as a guest lodge or hothouse. Others had a hidden function such as a place to have tea or play cards.

In contemporary terms many follies are used for commercial purposes while others are sham buildings disguising something else, such as an oil rig pumping station made to look like a high rise off of Long Beach.

“The boundaries are blurry,” Escher said.

“Follies emerged through the age of enlightenment where everything needed to be understood and cataloged,” he added. “There had to be a counterpart and follies were the response.”

Although many structures were quirky in design, many were eloquent objects of study and scholarly research, not intended as superficial entertainment.

“We make the argument that driving through the landscape has replaced strolling through the park, which is why we considered roadside objects as follies,” GuneWardena said. “What has changed is that follies are no longer privileged to aristocracy but something enjoyed by a whole variety of the population.”