The Architecture of Happinessby Published 03 Oct 2006
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One of the great but often unmentioned causes of both happiness and misery is the quality of our environment: the kinds of walls, chairs, buildings and streets that surround us.
And yet a concern for architecture and design is too often described as frivolous, even self-indulgent. The Architecture of Happiness starts from the idea that where we are heavily influences who we can be, and it argues that it is architecture's task to stand as an eloquent reminder of our full potential.
Whereas many architects are wary of openly discussing the word beauty, this book has at its center the large and naÃ¯ve question: What is a beautiful building? It is a tour through the philosophy and psychology of architecture that aims to change the way we think about our homes, our streets and ourselves.
The Architecture of Happiness Reviews
(500) Days of Summer is one of my favorite movies. Being a real life embodiment of Tom Hansen, I thought I would give this book a try. It was impossible for me to watch the movie and not be curious as to why he was reading it and why he enjoyed it so much that he felt the need to give it to Summer.
When I first started this book I thought it was going to focus quite a bit on the psychology of why architecture has the ability of changing who we are. While it did delve into the idea of the different ways of expression through architecture, I felt like something was missing while I was reading it. There were moments where I really loved what Alain de Botton was saying about our surroundings and their ability to change and affect us. Just as quickly as those great moments came, however, they disappeared. While still very interesting, a lot of it was history and not enough explanation of why we are different people in different places, as he says at the beginning of the book.
It was still incredibly interesting to read and I did enjoy it, don't get me wrong. I loved his style of writing, especially at the very beginning. The way he pulls words together in order to describe things around us is mind blowing. I adored it. So while some parts seemed a little slow for me, by the time I put the book down I knew it had sparked something. It gets you thinking in a way you probably didn't before. When a book does that for me, I consider it something of quality. A lot of the inspiring things he says are things that don't even need to be purely applied to architecture, either. A lot of it can be applied to so many, if not all, art forms. So regardless of what it is you enjoy doing or the art you find yourself truly attracted to, you are bound to pull something valuable out of this book.
I'm not an architect or scientist, but a counselor and teacher. I read the book because of my interest in beauty, form and function. I enjoyed the author's compare and contrast method in discussing various architectural styles. Most amusing was Viscount Bangor and Lady Anne Bligh's Castle Ward. Negotiated to end a marital dispute on style, the Castle displays a Classic front and Gothic rear. The psychology of "talking buildings" was light hearted and a little far fetched for me at times. My problem was that I had to keep forcing myself to read this book. As a philosophy or psychology of architecture text, it lacked the enticement to keep reading. As a history it lacked organization and structure. As an eclectic free association it had some charming and interesting moments.
A nod to my brother for introducing this book to me. De Botton completely disbunks the notion I'd adopted (from whom? where?) that good architecture is purely functional and anything else is simply the expression of an its designer's overactive ego. NOT. Surely architects are guilty of erecting bombastic works, but it by no means explains why the line of a rooftop or curve of a banister stirs a particular mood and emotion in its viewer. De Botton delves into the how we relate to objects, why one object draws us in, another repels us. A fascinating dissection of architecture and human nature. This book was a revelation to me.
I find myself looking at art and buildings differently after reading The Architecture of Happiness, so I cannot deny the power of the text on an architectural neophyte. And while I don’t agree with all of the author’s assertions, I found myself reacting rigorously to his contentions. Add beautiful prose, and yes, I can recommend The Architecture of Happiness.
The book reads like a combination of architecture primer and persuasive essay stocked with supporting photos and illustrations. De Botton’s focus on the individual, psychological responses to (what he calls) ugly and beautiful buildings is engaging; for example, when discussing the role of art in a house he says:
Behind wanting to own the painting and hang it where we could regularly study it might be the hope that through continued exposure to it, its qualities would come to assume a greater hold on us. Passing it on the stairs last thing at night or in the morning on our way to work would have the effect of a magnet which could pull to the surface submerged filaments of our characters. The painting would act as a guardian of a mood.
However, the author’s reliance on the collective “we” is sometimes problematic. De Botton uses the collective “we” to support his sometimes shaky assertions. For example, he broadly asserts that disordered societies will seek out ordered art and buildings and stringent societies will seek out more creative art and buildings. I’m not sure generalizations of that nature are widespread enough to cover the “we” in the way De Botton suggests.
I have to say, however, that De Botton writes beautifully enough to lull his reader past a few questionable points, and once I became comfortable with the personal, conversational approach I could sit back and have fun with the book. Ladies, by the way, this guy is British, smart, young, and, from the book jacket pic, good looking. Keep your eyes out for book signings.
After reading The Architecture of Happiness I find myself thinking of why my Day of the Dead nightlight makes me happy and what I could do to improve my office’s cinderblock walls. I don’t know jack about architecture (no single book can change that) but I’ll tilt my head a little differently and think in new ways about architecture as a result of this book. If you’re into that sort of “change your perspective on a common societal element” text, check it out.
edit: I take back what I said about him being good looking after I checked out his author pic on his goodreads page. He looks like he's aged about 100 years since the book jacket pic.
I probably made two mistakes when decided to start this book,
First: I chose a book about architecture and 'listened' to an audio version,
Second: I started it in a very busy day when I had too much driving to do, so more or less it became like a background noise.
Well, I will try to be fair, but even this review with the enclosed rating might not be fair at all. The book is so beautifully written. Very poetic and touches your heart to the core. But that is precisely why I found it extremely boring. Perhaps because architecture is supposed to be "visual", not described by words, and certainly not auditory. (or so I think). May be the reader was not good enough, may be the subject was not suitable, or may be the book was not well-written after all, for whenever I space out for even a few seconds, I am completely lost between the poetry of the words.
The book is supposed to discuss the effect of architecture on the happiness of societies, which is more or less related to the beauty of structures. The author outlines some rules that govern the beauty of buildings, throughout history and in different regions, and how it can be clearly defined, I think. Nevertheless, I am not sure the book added any significant information to my knowledge of the subject. Again, I might be wrong. I would, though, get back to a (hard copy) of this book. I will recommend it to first or second year students of architecture, but never an audio book, never.