Fabriques: principles of design

A fabrique is a small garden structure that has no functional purpose, but exists only to make a visual and cultural statement. (This does not preclude it having a function, but if its form is dictated by its function it ceased to be a fabrique.) The fabrique is sometimes confused with a ‘folly’. But that noxious term must never be used to described a fabrique. The term ‘folly’ signifies a wilful and foolish extravagance that is likely to end in the financial ruin of its creator. A fabrique, by contrast is a serious building, the function of which is wholly artistic or cultural, not practical. The fact that ‘folly’ is an English term and ‘fabrique’ a French one probably says a lot about the attitudes of inhabitants of those countries toward creative artistic expression.

Typically, the fabrique is a quotation. Examples are the garden at Wörlitz, which has forty of fifty fabriques, almost all of which are representations or quotations of cultually signifacant buildings: the Pantheon, the Villa Hamilton, or the island tomb of Rousseau at Ermenonville. This tradition was continued by the Count de Beistegui at the Chateau de Groussay in the 1950s: Palladian Bridge, Neoclassical Pyramidal Tomb, Turkish Tent, Chinese kiosk and so forth. Chinese buildings are frequently the subject of fabriques. This continues to this day, but in my view is rather limiting, and can become problematic. For example, the late Stuart Rattle in his garden at Musk installed a Chinese pavilion. It really is Chinese, from a nineteenth or twentieth century park in China somewhere. Installed at Musk Farm, it is first a reference to chinoiserie fabriques in eighteenth century gardens, and through that a vision of China as the eighteenth century saw it. Or perhaps it bypasses the eighteenth century and goes direct to China. (Much the same is true of Groussay.) But in all this there is the danger of Las Vegasism: the empty copying of earlier cultural practices. Hence in my opinion a fabrique needs to be more complex. Fabriques are more interesting if it is the parts, not the whole, that are allusive. That shape might be Gothic, but it might be Moorish, or it might be something else again. This causes much puzzlement, as people expect to be able to label things, when the point of such a fabrique is that a ready categorisation is not forthcoming. Hence it is best to give them names that are not ready identifiers. This is different yet oddly similar to that other practice of naming an area of the garden after a famous site, and practice that goes back to Hadrian’s villa. That is an example of making something meaningful by naming it after something else, and this engaging with associations, and so causing you to see it as that named place. There needs to be some physical feature or features that establish the connection, but it need not be a replica: indeed, it is better if it is not. With the fabrique, it is the mental exercise of trying to place it but not succeeding that is the point. But both practices force you to engage with history, and a garden that does not do this is vacuous.

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