Designed and built by Claire Ford, Elise Cautley and Jennifer Gao Recycled and reused pinus radiata, equine canvas with stainless steel tension wire, steel rod and fixings, Resene paint.

To showcase the inspiring journey of these remarkable young architects, we’ve collaborated with talented videographer Joe Hammond from Lagoon Films. The 3.5-minute film offers an intimate glimpse into the team's creative process and the motivation behind the making of Femme-ly Velues.

As the title suggests, Femme-ly Velues is an expression of both femininity and feminism. Playing on the traditional term ‘family values’, this remarkable structure was designed by an all-women team - Claire Ford, Elise Cautley and Jennifer Gao - a first for the Brick Bay Folly project since it began nine years ago, and a celebration of the growing presence of women in architecture and construction.

Responding to the competition brief, the team members - who are now in professional practice - began with an idea to explore ornamentation and its role within architectural history. In both the initial design and finished folly, there is an allusion to the fabric crafts of sewing and weaving, with the designers inspired by skills they were taught by their mothers. As the team stated in their proposal: “To knit or sew is a parametric practice yet with carefully honed skills passed to the artist through a matriarchal bloodline.”

The folly’s form emerged organically from an afternoon of conversation and sketching to become three ‘bodies in space.’ As the design evolved, so did the complexity of it, mimicking the gradual building of layers within a woven piece. Ford explains: “First, the warp of the loom (vertical elements) is established, then the weft is run through, with horizontal lines running back and forth. Finally, when the elements are tensioned and compacted into a final piece, it becomes known as ‘the work’.”

The challenge then was how to translate the fabric crafts of sewing and weaving into an architectural structure. There was an inherent desire to reinterpret the tradition of marrying textile and construction, “acknowledging the heritage of textile craft among women, while simultaneously challenging the western perception of textile craft being assigned to low-brow ornaments hung within the built environment.”

After a period of design experimentation, consultation with the project mentors and careful refinement of the construction details, the finished folly is a fanciful tripartite structure, described by the team as ‘a small family of looms’. Utilising 272 linear metres of timber and close to 9 square metres of canvas, the folly has an organic feeling about it; that of softly draped fabric. But this is not to say that there is not serious reinforcement cleverly hidden below the surface and within the design; over 11 cubic metres of gravel was compacted to secure the design’s foundations in order to avoid concrete foundations being embedded in the earth, and close to 65 metres of steel cable is hidden within the binding of the canvas.

Using aptly-named Resene paint colours such as ‘XO’, ‘Bright Spark’ and ‘Colour me Pink’ to paint the woven canvas and latticed timber parts, the brightly coloured palette creates a joyful mood. As a compliment, the brown-stained timber at the base of the looms references the previous folly built on this site (The Nest), which Femme-ly Velues recycled approximately 30% of the timber from. This reclaimed timber honours the history and character of ancestral follies at Brick Bay, reduces waste, and continues the lifecycle of materials.

As renowned architect, Chair of the Folly judging panel and project mentor Pip Cheshire articulates:

“The project was an exciting proposition for us all when we first saw it. The combination of rigid and flexible materials, the importance of the loomed fabrics’ curve, the flamboyant colouring and a design team split between cities all gave pause for reflection. As usual, a beguiling competition submission had challenges concealed within, many well beyond the experience of those of us more steeped in building construction. I am delighted the team of competitors, with judge and mentor support, overcame these and Brick Bay is yet again host of a folly that meets with bravado the challenges laid down by the competition.”

Just as textile-based projects utilise the intricacy of small parts to build the finished piece, Femme-ly Velues demonstrates a clever balance between the matrix of subtle construction details and seemingly effortless conceptual experimentation. The vibrancy of colours conveys a translation of feminism but also a celebration of playfulness, joy, and, in the true nature of a Folly, a sense of humour and whimsy.

To read more about the story behind of Femme-ly Velues and the journey of the team, click here for Amanda Harkness’s article published in Architecture New Zealand, May/June 2024, and now live on Architecture NOW.

Femme-ly Velues uses the following Resene Lumbersider paints: XO, Studio, Bright Spark, Jordy Blue, Colour Me Pink, and Toorak

Further facts about Femme-ly Velues: 626 individual pieces of timber, a total of 272.5 linear metres (127.5 metres of which is recycled from the previous Folly The Nest). 23 steel bars (66 linear metres) of steel rod 64.4 metres of steel cable 41 screws tensioning the canvas 26 individual canvas components with a combined surfaced area of over 8.7 square metres

Words by Tegan Dunn

Photography by Sam Hartnett