Ten follies created for the London Festival of Architecture celebrate the lives of pioneering women


In celebration of the centenary year of women’s suffrage and the London Festival of Architecture’s theme of ‘Identity’, Bankside Open Spaces Trust commissioned 10 architects and designers to create follies that take inspiration from an extraordinary female figure — past or present.

The follies have been installed at the Marlborough Sports Garden, near London bridge, where they remain until 30 June.

Aros Architects’ contribution (top) is a tribute to Bella Burge, known as “Bella of Blackfriars,” who was a music hall performer and ran a boxing ring, locally called, ‘The Ring’. The design “plays on the idea of ‘The Ring’ as a stage or platform, which is also a nod to Bella’s history of performing in music halls”, says the architect. “Inspired by the stripped back art of boxing, our appropriately red-coloured ring’ starts from a simple cubic shape. Its form has been adapted to create a raised platform with two elevated seats, promoted through subtle illumination, for friendly conversation or duelled debate”.

Architect Foundry and Bottle has made a folly based on the identity of traveller, writer and pioneer of women’s rights Mary Wollstonecraft. “Despite being considered a founder of feminism and an inspiration for campaigners over the last two centuries, she is critically under-appreciated,” says the architect. “We want to join the campaign for her wider recognition, with a folly inspired by her last written work creating a secluded and naturally sublime space for introspective reflections.”

Stephen Kavanagh Architects addresses the identity of Fanny Wilkinson, who studied at the Crystal Palace School of Landscape Gardening and Practical Horticulture where she completed an 18-month course in landscape architecture. The course was meant for men only and Wilkinson was the first woman to even attempt enrolment. “SKA chose to interpret Fanny’s life and achievements as a victory for determined action over inaction and discontent”, says the architect. “The black cage represents the social constraints of the late nineteenth century, inside which creativity is stifled and life subdued. A single tree rises up to escape these constraints by cutting through the glass ceiling, not in a reckless manner but with determined and deliberate intent. Once free, it has room to explore its full potential”.

Forge Architects has chosen to explore the identity of a living person, musician PJ Harvey. “In a small act of rebellion we found an ‘Extraordinary Woman’ of our time,” it says. “Much like PJ Harvey, Forge are pushing the boundaries set out by the brief, to go taller and add experiential elements. We acknowledged her roots, influences and common themes to come up with a playful proposal in the hope of breaking out of the box to find some rhythm.”

Designed by The DnA Factory, a folly inspired by Mary Shelley is constructed from salvaged materials and found objects. “This echoes the constructed theme of Mary’s most famous novel, Frankenstein, the bolting together of unrelated human parts,” says The DnA Factory. “Viewed from the back forwards we’re following a narrative, taking you on a journey from the constriction of a concrete chain, dancing soldiers locked together in a dervish whirl speak of the follies of war, a compass marks direction, the hand reaching across the inevitable bonds of the DnA we’re all created by and from, across the doily representing society and expectation, past vanity — suggested by an empty ornate mirror frame, across time – a clock face minus hands, towards the key to growth, a holistic and harmonious life. The piece resembles a tomb, to remind us all about our own fragility and mortality; The golden head to make us remember the power of imagination and creativity.”

Inside Out has based its folly around the life of Consuelo Vanderbilt Baldsan, Duchess of Marlborough and chatelaine of Blenheim Palace. “Consuelo came from a life of absolute privilege but chose to use that privilege for the betterment of those most in need,” says the architect. “One of her legacy projects is the Marlborough Sports Garden, the very site for this folly project”.

In 1906 she left her loveless marriage and dedicated herself to service and philanthropy. “Our approach to the folly is focussed on the shift that occurred in Consuelo’s life,” says InsideOut. “Coloured ribbon-like elements represent Consuelo’s multiple talents and gifts. Woven orderly and tightly to one side of the folly, the individual ribbons start to unravel and stretch in different directions to loosely create shelter and a sense of space and playfulness.”


Architect One Works’ folly takes women’s rights activist Annie Besant as its subject. “She is an inspiring reminder of the strength in numbers how one person’s actions can catalyse collective action towards a greater result,” says One Works. “She is an inspiring reminder of the strength in numbers – how one person’s actions can catalyse collective action towards a greater result. This is reflected in our design approach.”


Architect RCKa has interpreted the identity of Alice Williams who runs Luminary, a London bakery that provides skills training and support for disadvantaged women. “We’d like Alice to act as the figurehead to celebrate all women in the local community who have set up small charities or go above and beyond,” says RCKa. “The idea is that people will be able to relate to everyday women like Alice and in turn inspire them to help others.”

“The folly will offer a staging point to hear inspiring everyday stories but also to share your own, an opportunity to take something away as well as leave your mark. After the festival, it will be flat-packed to enable it to embark on a journey across London, setting up shop in other locations, carrying stories with it and collecting new ones along the way”.

Architect Cove Burgess has chosen to represent social reformer Octavia Hill, who “championed many values that, as architects, we have a great respect for. We chose to focus on her love and advocacy of green and public spaces,” said Cove Burgess.