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The Architecture of Happiness

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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 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 naïve 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.

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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 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 naïve 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.

30 review for The Architecture of Happiness

  1. 4 out of 5

    Zanna

    First read January 2008 Casa P, Sao Paulo, by Marcio Kogan That most of this feels like something I might myself have written, I take to be an indictment of my own education. I am going to an attempt a highly critical reading, because I am suspicious of how comfortable I feel in it. Technically, it is as much about interior decoration as about architecture, but that makes less of a snappy title. The book never quite stops apologising for its subject, de Botton repeating that architecture seems triv First read January 2008 Casa P, Sao Paulo, by Marcio Kogan That most of this feels like something I might myself have written, I take to be an indictment of my own education. I am going to an attempt a highly critical reading, because I am suspicious of how comfortable I feel in it. Technically, it is as much about interior decoration as about architecture, but that makes less of a snappy title. The book never quite stops apologising for its subject, de Botton repeating that architecture seems trivial to most people and that its effect on us is subtle and a depressing consequence of our moral and emotional frailty. He ignores the fact that most people, while they may care deeply about their built environments, have little or no control over them. Negative views of people and life are also repeated over and over. Such pessimism is easily justified of course, and in other books I have appreciated de Botton's gentle way of reminding us that we usually do not live up to our aspirations by sharing a relatable and amusing tale of his own failings. However, I believe this taken-for-granted pessimism is corrosive, and I resent the way in which it functions here as an unjustified assumption when it is actually culturally specific. It is as if to appeal to people who live unluxurious lives, de Botton's were to adopt a soothing tone: I know it's hard but... The book is preoccupied with beauty, making a gesture towards understanding this as a problematic metric for architecture, which is not followed through. Instead, de Botton defends it, essentially ridiculing modernism for treating beauty with suspicion. That modernism, like neoclassicism for example, presented a set of values and hypocritically pretended objectivity about them is a good point, but it is insufficient to return us uncritically to north/west European aesthetic values, the racist sexist classist grounding of which are here left almost untouched. De Botton does occasionally draw attention to and mildly criticise building that expresses elitism and self-congratulation, but more often he is impressed by it. The language of dominance and submission is deployed with disturbing approval and regularity: From a traffic island at the upper end of a wide Parisian street, the view takes in a symmetrical, spacious corridor of stately apartment buildings that culminate in a wide square in which a man stands proudly on top of a column. Despite the discord of the world, these blocks have settled their differences and humbly arranged themselves in perfect repetitive patterns... not a single railing is out of line...The buildings seem to have shuffled forwards like a troupe of ballet dancers, each one aligning its toes to the very same point on the pavement as though in obediance to the baton of a strict dancing-master. The dominant rhythm of the blocks is accompanied by subsidiary harmonic progressions of lamps and benches... an impression of beauty tied to qualities of regularity and uniformity, inviting the conclusion that at the heart of a certain kind of architectural greatness there lies the concept of order... The street speaks of the sacrifice demanded by all works of architecture… the street moves us because we recognise how sharply its qualities contrast with those which generally colour our lives. We call it beautiful from a humbling overfamiliarity with its antitheses: in domestic life, with sulks and petty disputes, and in architecture, with streets whose elements crossly decide to pay no heed to the appearance of their neighbours and instead cry out chaotically for attention, like jealous and enraged lovers. This ordered street offers a lesson in the benefits of surrendering individual freedom for the sake of a higher and collective scheme, in which all parts become something greater by contributing to the whole. Though we are creatures inclined to squabble, kill, steal and lie, the street reminds us that we can occasionally master our baser impulses and turn a waste land, where for centuries wolves howled, into a monument of civilisation We might agree that repeated, regular forms in architecture can indeed be visually pleasing, and it could be argued that de Botton writes in this manner to express this value in a full-blooded manner. No doubt. But since he argues, extensively, that architecture is aspirational and speaks to us about who we want to be, and also mourns failures to hear it, perhaps we should not let this call to get in line pass unremarked. Religion, a preoccupation of de Botton, who assumes a secular (white middle class British educated) reader throughout, is another locus for feelings of submission. I find it strange that he assumes everyone who enters a cathedral will feel the urge to 'fall to [their] knees and worship a being as mighty and sublime as we are ourselves small and inadequate'. I generally feel a contrary impulse to fly into the sky in concert with the soaring forms. The butt of de Botton's book is Le Corbusier, who is here, as elsewhere, blamed for the unedifying qualities of much of contemporary built environments. De Botton does once quote his nemesis with approval however, when it serves his own argument for order and conservatism: "These things are beautiful because in the middle of the apparent incoherence of nature or the cities of men [sic], they are places of geometry... and is not geometry pure joy?" de Botton (who also, by the way, uses the unmarked masculine for all people and the word 'mankind') replies (still talking about that same favourite regimental Parisian boulevard): Joy because geometry represents a victory over nature and because, despite what a sentimental reading might suggest, nature is in truth oppose to the order we rely on to survive. Left to its own devices, nature will not hesitate to crumble our roads, claw down our buildings, push wild vines through our walls and return every other feature of our carefully plotted geometric world to primal chaos. Nature's way is to corrode, melt, soften, stain and chew on the works of man [sic!]. And eventually it will win. Eventually we will find ourselves too worn out to resist its destructive centrifugal forces*: we will grow weary of repairing roofs and balconies, we will long for sleep, the lights will dim, and the weeds will be left to spread their cancerous[!] tentacles unchecked over our libraries and shops. our background awareness of inevitable calamity is what can make us especially sensitive to the beauty of a street, in which we recognise the very qualities on which our survival hangs. *centrifugal force does not exist. Again, my reader may object that I push too hard. De Botton must dramatise his material - that is what we expect from writers. But this is not a novel and this language of malevolent violence attached to nature underlines that north/west European culture is founded on settler colonialism: in opposing civilisation to nature we see that the former must be madness. We can take this attitude of machismo and supremacy to the natural world but we will eventually destroy ourselves, for everything we have comes from nature and our daily needs depend on it to an extreme degree. A philosophy/architectural ideology that disdains the fact that plants, in concert with water soil and sunlight, make the oxygen and glucose that every cell of our bodies requires every second to act and feel, is an ideology of delusion and death. I struggled not to be irritated by de Botton's sojourn in Japan, where he is petulant about the local architecture's failure to minister to the needs of his soul, formed elsewhere. When he finds a building he likes, his description seems lifted straight from In Praise of Shadows , but he does not acknowledge it, and quotes the same work a couple of pages later, rather disparagingly I feel. The idea that we might learn to appreciate an unfamiliar aesthetic from Japanese artefacts is presented with a take-it-or-leave-it air of humorous whimsy, less serious than the (still fairly light) tone in which, elsewhere, de Botton condemns the 'perverse' idea that architects should be creative and laments that Palladio did not give us more rules to obey. (OK I am overstating the case now...) That de Botton can present a conclusion about rightness in architecture without ever using the word 'I' is perhaps the easiest demonstration of the self-positioning of the text, what I call its expansive occupation of the normative ground. By expanding briefly here and there into Islamic ecclesiastical architecture, Japanese ideas of beauty and occasional critiques of artistocratic privilege, de Botton gives the impression of having digested the entire spectrum of thought on his topic. The deliberate impression of roundedness denies the existence of an angle. I have worked with architects, and I believe that the subject requires the very deepest thought, because I agree with de Botton that where we are shapes how we feel and what we do. And because I think a successful architecture is one that responds to who we are and what we want. How can one write a book on architecture without ever mentioning the body? Architecture is, I believe, the art that answers dance, the art that mediates between the body and the earth. And it is a collective endeavour, requiring for its realisation diverse materials and skills, all too often applied with no involvement of the people who must use them. De Botton is moodily discontented with the status quo, but astonishingly he never considers the power relations inherent in questions of who benefits from decisions about what is built where, how and for whom to use. It is not enough.

  2. 5 out of 5

    RandomAnthony

    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’ 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.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    When I was a child we used to have long walks with my parents (both architects) along the streets of my home town and listen to them discuss almost every building, every design choice and ornament we walked pass. Since then I got used to walking the streets looking up at the buildings (this resulted in stepping inside numerous puddles, dogs business and never finding any coins) and I thought that I could really "see" a building. After reading this book I discovered a whole new way of "looking" a When I was a child we used to have long walks with my parents (both architects) along the streets of my home town and listen to them discuss almost every building, every design choice and ornament we walked pass. Since then I got used to walking the streets looking up at the buildings (this resulted in stepping inside numerous puddles, dogs business and never finding any coins) and I thought that I could really "see" a building. After reading this book I discovered a whole new way of "looking" at architecture. I discovered that buildings have their own psychology - it's in a way the building speaks to it's surroundings, it's in the way windows, doors, and other elements co-exist. In this book Alain asks questions like, why we consider some things beautiful. What is elegance. And what buildings say about the times they were build in, and what the don't say about people who live in them. I think that anyone who deals with aesthetics should give this book a go even if he doesn't find architecture particularly interesting. I can assure you will find this book very stimulating. I also looked up some of the authors Alain mentions and found some interesting titles to add to my reading list: Wilhelm Worringer - "Abstraction and Empathy: A Contribution to the Psychology of Style" and essays Rudolf Arnheim - "Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye" And essays by Friedrich Schiller

  4. 5 out of 5

    Murtaza

    Years ago I listened to a lecture by the Muslim scholar Sayyid Hossein Nasr that described the philosophy of traditional Islamic city planning, some of which still survives today in places like Fez and Esfahan. As Nasr described, these cities and their component parts were designed with the explicit belief that a person's external environment strongly influenced their internal state. A city that at every turn subtly reminded people of the divine reality would in turn help them gravitate towards Years ago I listened to a lecture by the Muslim scholar Sayyid Hossein Nasr that described the philosophy of traditional Islamic city planning, some of which still survives today in places like Fez and Esfahan. As Nasr described, these cities and their component parts were designed with the explicit belief that a person's external environment strongly influenced their internal state. A city that at every turn subtly reminded people of the divine reality would in turn help them gravitate towards the divine in their actions and beliefs. According to this philosophy, Islamic cities, buildings and daily implements were all designed with a view to ornamentation and symmetry on both the macro and micro levels. The harmony of the manmade world was intended to reflect the harmony of the God-created natural universe, so beauty in design was considered every bit as important as physical integrity. Beautiful objects and buildings were intended to speak to people's souls by reminding them of the divine realm of pure beauty and love, considered in Islam to be mankind's true paradisiacal home, towards which it yearns to return. "Beauty is the promise of happiness," Stendhal once wrote, and beauty in the built environment was intended to remind men and women in Islamic societies of the happiness that awaited them at the end of a virtuous life. I was reminded of this lecture while reading this book by Alain de Botton; in particular while coming across an arresting passage on the Christian philosophy of beauty and its explanation of why physical beauty strangely tends to fill us with both happiness and melancholy simultaneously: “Christian philosophers have been singularly alive to the sadness which beauty may provoke. 'When we admire the beauty of visible objects, we experience joy certainly,' observed the medieval thinker Hugh of St Victor, 'but at the same time, we experience a feeling of tremendous void.' The religious explanation put forward for this sadness, as rationally implausible as it is psychologically intriguing, is that we recognize beautiful things as symbols of the unblemished life we once enjoyed in the Garden of Eden. While we may one day resume this sublime existence in Heaven, the sins of Adam and Eve have deprived us of that possibility on earth. Beauty, then, is a fragment of the divine, and the sight of it saddens us by evoking our sense of loss and our yearning for the life denied us. The qualities written into beautiful objects are those of a God from whom we live far removed, in a world mired in sin. But works of art are finite enough, and the care taken by those who create them great enough, that they can claim a measure of perfection ordinarily unattainable by human beings. These works are bitter-sweet tokens of a goodness to which we still aspire, however infrequently we may approach it in our actions or our thoughts." This was a beautiful passage that recalled to me the important role of physical beauty in cultivating our inner lives, whether we consider ourselves religious or not. Beauty is a repository of our hopes and desires, both for ourselves and the world we would like to see around us. Living surrounded by it can fill us with contentment, while living in an environment devoid of beauty can make us unhappy for reasons we are unable to rationally articulate. But how does a given person decide what is beautiful to them? As de Botton eloquently argues, what we find appealing or unappealing in a given thing tends to be a reflection of the values that we aspire to include in our own lives. Every piece of art, furniture or architecture embodies certain values that we subconsciously perceive. A regally ornamented building may remind us of grandeur, duty and intellectual cultivation in a world of mediocrity, while a piece of abstract art may remind us of freedom and playfulness in a world of regimented order. A chair could be welcoming, friendly and honest, whereas a lamp could be diligent, loyal and even irreverent. Depending on the person and the society that they inhabit, different pieces of art and the values that they embody may speak to them in different ways. The values that appeal to us in art are often the values that we feel that our own lives and our societies as a whole are lacking. I think that there is a deceptively powerful message in this. Meditating about the things around you and the values that you perceive them is enlightening on a personal level, but it is also an invaluable tool for improving ones ability to both speak and write in a manner that speaks deeply to the inner lives of those around you. This is a good habit to develop, and one reflected in the genius of the most sensitive writers and artists. Rather than being "realistic," art and architecture has traditionally had an aspirational quality to it. As de Botton notes, the idealized human forms depicted by the Greeks were intended to offer a reminder of the goals of human perfection in that society, rather than to depict life as it actually was for most people. The buildings and products we make today generally claim to be devoid of ideology, but this is impossible. A lack of ornamentation and grandeur in suburbs and modern cities (to say nothing of mass produced goods) may be said to reflect a certain pragmatism and capitalist desire for efficiency, but they also set standards of mediocrity for the people that inhabit these environments. Meanwhile the identical glass towers of neoliberal cities around the planet seems to speak to a homogenized world, created by and for the deracinated global elite that is able to enjoy a life flitting between them. These insipid environments may explain why so many of us seek to visit "old" places when we go on vacations. We unconsciously seek out the beauty and values embodied in the architecture of antiquity, values which are, in general, painfully absent in our modern cities and suburbs. Although I'm a layperson when it comes to architecture, I'd argue that it is one field in which laypeople should be afforded at least a qualified opinion, since we all have to inhabit the physical world created by architects. In this book, de Botton makes a strong argument for remembering the importance of beauty in our daily lives and in our social policies. His writing is simple and elegant, and, whether intended or not, it also communicates through its erudition a compelling message about the value of beauty in the everyday. A wise and enjoyable book that was a pleasure to read, I would recommend it highly to anyone.

  5. 4 out of 5

    S.Baqer Al-Meshqab

    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 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.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Chaunceton Bird

    One can easily tell from Alain de Botton's writing that he is one of the most genuinely kind individuals on this planet. This is an excellent book on the importance of thoughtful architecture. It would have been nice to have more discussion on the constraints of money, and how working-class folks can build homes the are a net positive instead of the cookie-cutter high-density suburban debacle that many of us are forced into.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Marcia

    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 prob 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.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Janie

    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 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.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    This book flipped a switch in me. I didn't know I could be interested in arhitecture, but de Botton was inspired by Stendhal's motto "beauty is the promise of happiness" and analyzes our surroundings and how human needs and desires manifest their ideals in architecture.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Marcus

    I really enjoyed this book. It's fast paced, conversational and exploratory. My favorite parts were the philosophizing about the nature of beauty. For example, de Botton discusses how we subconsciously humanize almost everything we see. We give buildings and sculptures personalities then judge them based on these projected human traits. He talks about how the buildings and art we find appealing reflect the fulfillment of our desires, not what we are or have, but the ideals we aspire to. Because o I really enjoyed this book. It's fast paced, conversational and exploratory. My favorite parts were the philosophizing about the nature of beauty. For example, de Botton discusses how we subconsciously humanize almost everything we see. We give buildings and sculptures personalities then judge them based on these projected human traits. He talks about how the buildings and art we find appealing reflect the fulfillment of our desires, not what we are or have, but the ideals we aspire to. Because of this, the context of the viewer and the location of the piece become key contributors to determining its beauty and success. For example, churches should be capable of inspiring feelings of reverence or devotion in even non-religious people. Ornamental architecture has its place, as do the clean lines of modern architecture. In context, each serves a purpose and shouldn't be written off in favor of some non-existant universal ideal style. De Botton has interesting opinions on how to integrate historical styles with modern buildings and he spends some time critiquing existing architects and buildings based on those standards. He feels that it's important to try to incorporate some of the unique historical aspects of the region's architecture but to also take into account modern needs and to be practical in choices. His approach to bad architecture is basically that it should be treated like any other bad art--get rid of it and start over. At times, there was a definite air of snobbishness about it, for example he takes a pretty broad swipe at all of Tokyo, but I didn't mind it too much. Snobbery can sometimes be productive. Perhaps his destroy and rebuild approach isn't always practical but despite my reservations about his implied methods of implementation, I admire the idealized goal of elevating beauty everywhere possible. The Architecture of Happiness is written like an essay meant to to raise for discussion both new and old-but-forgotten ideas as well as to inspire us to change and improve our environment. In that, I believe it succeeds.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rajwa

    His writing style just flows, it's never boring. His sensuality to space isn't sentimental at all, it's on point, he makes it feel like realistic poetry, were you just can't but relate, it's not just for architects, it's for everyone that has depth.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Steff

    (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 differen (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.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Fuller

    I'm not an architect nor an architecture expert, but I am definitely interested in the subject. This book isn't a technical treatise on what makes "good" architecture, but instead talks about how architecture reflects who we are, how we feel about our lives, and how architecture can make us feel. I enjoyed the musings, and the historical perspective, especially in such insightful passages as this one, on how people developed local housing styles in earlier centuries: "The difficulties of travel a I'm not an architect nor an architecture expert, but I am definitely interested in the subject. This book isn't a technical treatise on what makes "good" architecture, but instead talks about how architecture reflects who we are, how we feel about our lives, and how architecture can make us feel. I enjoyed the musings, and the historical perspective, especially in such insightful passages as this one, on how people developed local housing styles in earlier centuries: "The difficulties of travel also hindered the spread of knowledge about alternative building methods. Printing costs meant that few ever saw so much as a picture of how houses looked in other parts of the world (which explains why, in so much of early northern religious art, Jesus was born in what appears to be a chalet)." Just one of many nice little "aha!" moments...for me, anyway.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    Alain de Botton's Architecture of Happiness is a humanist's guide to understanding built environments. Finding room to appreciate both classical and contemporary architecture, de Botton resolves the quarrel between the ancients and the moderns by suggesting that every architecture strives to provide the conditions for happiness. "What works of design and architecture talk to us about is the kind of life that would most appropriately unfold within and around them. They tell us of certain moods th Alain de Botton's Architecture of Happiness is a humanist's guide to understanding built environments. Finding room to appreciate both classical and contemporary architecture, de Botton resolves the quarrel between the ancients and the moderns by suggesting that every architecture strives to provide the conditions for happiness. "What works of design and architecture talk to us about is the kind of life that would most appropriately unfold within and around them. They tell us of certain moods that they seek to encourage and sustain in their inhabitants." (72) Although the book is dedicated to the pursuit of happiness, its best moments are shot through with midlife melancholy. De Botton reflects on the ache inspired by an eighteenth-century ornament: "The ceiling is a repository of the qualities the man would like to have more of in himself: it manages to be both playful and serious, subtle and clear, formal and unpretentious ... it has a profound unsentimental sweetness, like that of a smile breaking across a child's face" (148-9). The book itself is founded on the double premise that our surroundings affect our moods and modes of living, yet "will only ever constitute a small, and imperfect protest against the state of things" (25). De Botton, that is, believes deeply, very deeply, that architecture matters, but he does not suffer from the self-importance of the professional architect. Phew. What excites me most about de Botton's work, however, is his ability to weave design, literature, and philosophy into a mode of discourse that speaks with an eye to illumination, not obscurity. The writing is too beautiful to be reduced to a set of "take-aways," the emerging tin standard for public speech, yet de Botton uses page breaks and illustrations to escape the mesmerizing movement of his own syntax. Could this be ... the typography of happiness?

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jen Dean

    This book was a gift from my fiancee and, in fact, one of the first books he gave me. For that reason, it will forever hold a special place on my bookshelves. I enjoyed the book overall however; I felt as though it was a bit of an architectural history review and didn't fully delve into the ties between psychology and architecture. I found myself thinking on many occasions, "Ooooh, here's his chance - this could get really good!" Only to feel a wee bit disappointed when his sermon had ended. I f This book was a gift from my fiancee and, in fact, one of the first books he gave me. For that reason, it will forever hold a special place on my bookshelves. I enjoyed the book overall however; I felt as though it was a bit of an architectural history review and didn't fully delve into the ties between psychology and architecture. I found myself thinking on many occasions, "Ooooh, here's his chance - this could get really good!" Only to feel a wee bit disappointed when his sermon had ended. I felt as though the end was a little preachy and didn't end on one solid thought that really spoke to me. In fact, the last chapter I had to kind of make myself finish. I liked the idea of the book and I even marked a couple of passages that moved me. I just wish the author would have had something more unique and substantial to say about something I feel so passionately about.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Des

    The author does not discuss anything new, he just puts it all very well together, chose excellent illustrations to make his points. It is written in such fine and clear language and structure, that it just flows of the pages. Such a pleasure to read and to use as a little nudge to contemplate about a few truths in life.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Allie

    I originally rated this book 4 stars; but given how often I think about it, how often Sam and I talk about it, and how frequently I recommend it to library patrons and friends I had to bump it up.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Iris

    This image-packed book of short chapters has the effect of an afternoon with a sentimental and articulate friend. At his most helpful, the author takes your hand and invites you to peer at specific designs: if modern art bores you, read Part III and prepare to be ravished by stone slabs and other conceptual artworks. Botton is equally illuminating when pondering aesthetic and emotional contexts of buildings: a rural Swedish living room, a McDonalds, a stark office complex in Troy, Michigan, or th This image-packed book of short chapters has the effect of an afternoon with a sentimental and articulate friend. At his most helpful, the author takes your hand and invites you to peer at specific designs: if modern art bores you, read Part III and prepare to be ravished by stone slabs and other conceptual artworks. Botton is equally illuminating when pondering aesthetic and emotional contexts of buildings: a rural Swedish living room, a McDonalds, a stark office complex in Troy, Michigan, or the house called Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier (literally uninhabitable). He touches on fascinating histories, too, like Christopher Wren's plan for a new London after the great fire (Charles II loved his redesign of the whole city from the ground up, but property-tax-obsessed merchants refused any change; therefore London doesn't look like Paris). The scholarly reader will shock at the absence of footnotes, citations and references. Botton writes as if articulating for the first time his private opinion. I find this tactic refreshing and inspiring; if you object, then supplement this lovely volume with a few solid histories of architecture and design.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nickolette

    Alain de Botton just never disappoints. He has changed the way I think about a number of things and I'm better off for it. In The Architecture of Happiness there are no revolutionary notions but it opens the mind and the senses for beauty on several levels.

  20. 5 out of 5

    elyseburger

    everyone go read everything this guy wrote, he's great and hilarious and so smart

  21. 5 out of 5

    Alya AlShaibani

    beauuuutiful read! highly recommended to people who love buildings lol

  22. 4 out of 5

    Elise

    This began really promisingly with some wonderfully evocative language personifying buildings and architecture in a playful way. However it became more of a vague historical overview with some questionably sweeping statements and I found myself much less engaged. But I think it does portray architecture and design in quite an accessible way, a great introduction to these ideas, especially with all the photographs and diagrams making for a really nicely designed book that's quick to read.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mark Mikula

    Like the first book that I read by de Botton, I enjoyed this one. I first read On the Pleasures and Sorrows of Work because I heard him give an interview about that one last year. The Architecture of Happiness was the first one that I saw on the shelves of his though, and I finally remembered to put a request through to the library to get this one. It came up as a featured prop in the movie (500) Days of Summer, starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and for that reason was given a m Like the first book that I read by de Botton, I enjoyed this one. I first read On the Pleasures and Sorrows of Work because I heard him give an interview about that one last year. The Architecture of Happiness was the first one that I saw on the shelves of his though, and I finally remembered to put a request through to the library to get this one. It came up as a featured prop in the movie (500) Days of Summer, starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and for that reason was given a more prominent placement in bookstores. As an aside, I would recommend the film too. De Botton has a knack for encapsulating philosophical ideas about broad topics in history in short essays that maintain a loose progression but also stand on their own because each numbered segment of his chapters focus on a single idea and present different musings--some straightforward and factual, others personal and humorous--about the topic. De Botton also is very skillful with the language. I've been reintroduced to some very compelling words in the essays that he writes and introduced to some new ones as well. I cynically think that he occasionally writes an essay just to incorporate terms of art in it, to give them a new life by hoping his readers will repeat them. He didn't attempt to cover each subject equally. Some topics only get a few sequentially numbered essays, others receive more. I don't have a quarrel with that. It's just an observation. I will say that even though each numbered section seems internally consistent, I would be interested to hear if others felt that through rearrangement or deep analysis different contradictions about the ideas regarding architecture would be more prominent. It's such a complicated subject that developing a unified thesis on the topic is a challenge. And I don't think that de Botton intends to do that, but I found myself occasionally thinking, "Hey wait, didn't you say in chapter two, section four that good architecture does this while here you are saying that it doesn't do this?" None of the facts contradict one another in the book, but sometimes the ideas seem at odds. Again, though, just an observation, not a criticism. The only minor quibble I have with the book is with the illustrations. I think that de Botton or his publishers have agreed to incorporate black-and-white imagery in his books, but I think that the architecture volume is one that would have strongly benefited from color photographs since color is such an important element of design. Based on my affinity for de Botton's nonfiction and on a friend's affection for de Botton, Proust, or both, I actually bought a paperback copy of de Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life, and I've added it to my reading pile. It will be interesting to read about Proust because I've never ready any of his works, and don't intend to ... yet. Any time I've read de Botton, I've felt like I've been in a better place, whether it's the one he's describing or whether it's just me imagining myself in a clean room having just finished an excellent meal, about a half-hour from taking a nap.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Joni Baboci

    The Architecture of Happiness is an interesting book about architecture which - while not making any bold claims or putting forward any wild new theory - does a good job at elegantly polishing the history of architectural development. De Botton starts his work with a subjective analysis of how one experiences architecture. How individuals are moved and psychologically influenced by buildings. He comes to the conclusion that it is pain, suffering and the multitude of life's horrible and mediocre e The Architecture of Happiness is an interesting book about architecture which - while not making any bold claims or putting forward any wild new theory - does a good job at elegantly polishing the history of architectural development. De Botton starts his work with a subjective analysis of how one experiences architecture. How individuals are moved and psychologically influenced by buildings. He comes to the conclusion that it is pain, suffering and the multitude of life's horrible and mediocre experiences that makes one appreciate the art and beauty inherent to architecture. In the second chapter he reviews how modernism influenced the aesthetic sense of beauty. He is very objective in his description. At the end of the chapter he relies his own idea that modernism - just as all the other movements before it - wanted to prop up its own idea of beauty, that in this case coincided with functional beauty. Functionalism however was secondary to the futurist aesthetic that modernist architects aspired to. His argument in rooting modernism and making it similar to other architectural.movements is very good. Science was being brought up as a justifier since it was - at the time of the diminishing importance of christianity - the new spirit of the age. He goes on to argue this with an elegant critique of the Villa Savoye. He then extends Ruskin concept about the importance of differentiating simple aesthetic sense and the way buildings speak to the community they are located in and society at large. He argues that while it's impossible to objectively argue about aesthetic values it is possible to debate what a building says about itself and the community it is located in. I especially loved de Botton's descriptions of order and complexity, balance, elegance and coherence in chapter V. He was able to articulate clearly and in a fascinating way some hard to grasp and often misused architectural buzzwords.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kurt

    As some other reviews have noted, switching the words "Architecture" and "Happiness" in the title gives a better picture of what this book is about. Mostly, de Botton traces a path along various historical and geographical areas of development in architecture, and he draws out what makes a structure beautiful and emotionally satisfying. The writing style will likely put many readers off, as the vocabulary choices are about as ornate as the 18th-century British decorations for which the author ha As some other reviews have noted, switching the words "Architecture" and "Happiness" in the title gives a better picture of what this book is about. Mostly, de Botton traces a path along various historical and geographical areas of development in architecture, and he draws out what makes a structure beautiful and emotionally satisfying. The writing style will likely put many readers off, as the vocabulary choices are about as ornate as the 18th-century British decorations for which the author has a fondness, but the concepts are meaningful and there's a lot of humor (in particular, a snide observation of a gang of teenagers in a McDonald's made me grin when I recognized the sarcasm). Also, the book is filled with photographs to illustrate de Botton's ideas. I don't think my tastes align well with the author's (when he presents images of two bridges and writes about how evident it is that one is beautiful while the other is not, I find that I personally prefer the one he disfavors), but his work does a good job of exploring how a person's background (or even a culture's background) informs what architectural styles will be pleasing. I don't know that I recommend this book for many pleasure readers, but it is certainly a good gift for someone looking (personally or professionally) for a greater appreciation of architecture (see, for example, the film 500 Days of Summer, in which the book as a gift plays a significant role, which is how I first learned of it).

  26. 5 out of 5

    Humza Hussain

    "Taking architecture seriously therefore makes some singular and strenuous demands upon us. It requires that we open ourselves to the idea that we are affected by our surroundings even when they are made of vinyl and would be expensive and time-consuming to ameliorate. It means conceding that we are inconveniently vulnerable to the colour of our wallpaper and that our sense of purpose may be derailed by an unfortunate bedspread. At the same time, it means acknowledging that buildings are able to "Taking architecture seriously therefore makes some singular and strenuous demands upon us. It requires that we open ourselves to the idea that we are affected by our surroundings even when they are made of vinyl and would be expensive and time-consuming to ameliorate. It means conceding that we are inconveniently vulnerable to the colour of our wallpaper and that our sense of purpose may be derailed by an unfortunate bedspread. At the same time, it means acknowledging that buildings are able to solve no more than a fraction of our dissatisfactions or prevent evil from unfolding under their watch. Architecture, even at its most accomplished, will only ever constitute a small, and imperfect (expensive, prone to destruction and morally unreliable), protest against the state of things. More awkwardly still, architecture asks us to imagine that happiness might be found in a run of old floorboards or in a wash of morning light over a plaster wall - in undramatic, frangible scenes of beauty that move us before we are aware of the darker backdrop against which they are set." "To help overcome our reluctance to pass open judgement on the aesthetic side of buildings, we should consider our comparative confidence in discussing the strengths and failings of our fellow human beings. Much of social conversation amounts to a survey of the different ways in which absetn third parties have departed from or, much less commonly, have matched an implicit ideal of behaviour. In both casual and erudite registers, we are drawn to identifying vices and virtues, 'gossip' being only a vernacular version of ethical philosophy. Even though we seldom distil our grudges and admirations into abstract hypotheses, we frequently follow in the footsteps of philosophers who have written treatises aiming to identify and dissect human goodness. We might learn to put name to the virtues of buildings as these philosophers have done to those of people, carefully pinning down the architectural equivalents of generosity or modesty, honesty, or gentleness. Analogizing architecture with ethics helps us to discern that there is unlikely ever to be a single source of beauty in a building, just as no one quality can ever underpin excellence in a person. Traits need to arise at congruous moments, and in particular combinations, to be effective. A building of the right proportions which is assembled out of inappropriate materials will be no less compromised than a courageous man lacking in patience or insight. Armed with a comprehensive list of aesthetic virtues, architects and their clients would be freed from over-reliance on Romantic myths concerning the chance or divine origins of beauty. With virtues better defined and more readily integrated into architectural discussions, we would stand a fairer chance of systematically understanding and re-creating the environments we intuitively love." "The buildings we admire are ultimately those which, in a variety of ways, extol values we think worthwhile - which refer, that is, whether though their materials, shapes or colours, to such legendarily positive qualities as friendliness, kindness, subtlety, strength and intelligence. Out sense of beauty and our understanding of the nature of a good life are intertwined. We seek associations of peace in our bedrooms, metaphors for generosity and harmony in our chairs, and an air of honesty and forth grace, by worn stone steps that hint at wisdom and by a Georgian doorway that demonstrates playfulness and courtesy in its fanlight window. " "It was Stendhal who offered the most crystalline expression of the intimate affiliation between visual taste and our values when he wrote, 'Beauty is the promise of happiness'. His aphorism has the virtue of differentiating our love of beauty from an academic preoccupation with aesthetics, and integrating it instead with the qualities we need to prosper as whole human beings. If the search for happiness is the underlying quest of our lives, it seems only natural that it should simultaneously to be the essential theme to which beauty alludes." "The advantage of shifting the focus of discussion away from the strictly visual towards the values promoted by buildings is that we become able to handle talk about the appearances of works of architecture rather as we do wider debates about people, ideas and political agendas. Arguments about what is beautiful emerge as no easier to resolve, but learn to defend or attack a concept of beauty in the same way we might defend or attack a legal position or an ethical stance. We can understand, and publicly explain, why we believe a building to be desirable or offensive on the basis of the things it talks to us about." "Our reasons for liking abstract sculptures, and by extension tables and columns, are not in the end so far removed from our reasons for honouring representational scenes. We call works in both genres beautiful when they succeed in evoking what seems to us the most attractive, significant attributes of human beings and animals." "It is in dialogue with pain that many beautiful things acquire their value. Acquaintance with grief turns out to be one of the more unusual prerequisites for architectural appreciation. We might, quite aside from all other requirements, need to be a little sad before buildings can properly touch us." "Our sadness won't be of the searing kind but more like a blend of joy and melancholy: joy at the perfection we see before us, melancholy at an awareness of how seldom we are sufficiently blessed to encounter anything of its kind. The flawless object throws into perspective the mediocrity that surrounds it. We are reminded of the way we would wish things always to be and of how incomplete our lives remain" "Although we belong to a species which spends an alarming amount of its time blowing things up, every now and then we are moved to add gargoyles or garlands, stars or wreaths, to our buildings for no practical reason whatsoever. In the finest of these flourishes, we can read signs of goodness in a material register, a form of frozen benevolence. We see in them evidence of those sides of human nature which enable us to thrive rather than survive. These elegant touches remind us that we are not exclusively pragmatic or sensible: we are also creatures who, with no possibility of profit or power, occasionally carve friars out of stone and mould angels onto walls. In order not to mock such details, we need a culture confident enough about its pragmatism and aggression that is can also acknowledge that contract demands of vulnerability and play - a culture, that is, sufficiently unthreatened by weakness and decadence as to allow for visible celebrations of tenderness."

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    At first I thought the nouns should be reversed, ie, the Happiness of Architecture. But I began to realise that the book isn't so much about architecture as it is about people and how they express themselves with architecture, as they do with other art forms. He is using architecture to explain humans. He anthropomorphises archictecture. Architecture becomes a frozen emotion. He says that “In essence, what works of design and architecture talk to us about is the kind of life that would most appr At first I thought the nouns should be reversed, ie, the Happiness of Architecture. But I began to realise that the book isn't so much about architecture as it is about people and how they express themselves with architecture, as they do with other art forms. He is using architecture to explain humans. He anthropomorphises archictecture. Architecture becomes a frozen emotion. He says that “In essence, what works of design and architecture talk to us about is the kind of life that would most appropriately unfold within and around them” Design is used to show what we want to be, or what we want our values to be. It springs from “…the need for idealised forms to stand as a defence against all that remains corrupt and unimaginative within us.” The human psyche naturally seeks balance and ‘beautiful’ architecture provides that, a psychological balance and therefore mental well being and happiness. “In literature, too,” he says, “we admire prose in which a small and astutely arranged set of words has been constructed to carry a large consignment of ideas.” De Botton’s book is just that: a small and astutely arranged set of words that carries a large consignment of ideas. Which brought me to happiness.

  28. 4 out of 5

    fleetofhorses

    "The failure of architects to create congenial environments mirrors our inability to find happiness in other areas of our lives. Bad architecture is in the end as much a failure of psychology as of design. It is an example expressed through materials of the same tendency which in other domains will lead us to marry the wrong people, choose inappropriate jobs and book unsuccessful holidays: the tendency not to understand who we are and what will satisfy us. "In architecture, as in so much else, we "The failure of architects to create congenial environments mirrors our inability to find happiness in other areas of our lives. Bad architecture is in the end as much a failure of psychology as of design. It is an example expressed through materials of the same tendency which in other domains will lead us to marry the wrong people, choose inappropriate jobs and book unsuccessful holidays: the tendency not to understand who we are and what will satisfy us. "In architecture, as in so much else, we cast around for explanations to our troubles and fix on platitudinous targets. We get angry when we should realise we are sad and tear down ancient streets when we ought instead to introduce proper sanitation and street lights. We learn the wrong lessons from our griefs while grasping in vain for the origins of contentment. "The places we call beautiful are, by contrast, the work of those rare architects with the humility to interrogate themselves adequately about their desires and the tenacity to translate their fleeting apprehensions of joy into logical plans - a combination that enables them to create environments that satisfy needs we never consciously knew we even had." (248-249)

  29. 5 out of 5

    Vonia

    One of the best books I have read. I will never look at Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Environmental Psychology, etc. the same way again. Already a fan of Alain de Botton, I can only love him more. Well written, he always explains himself with clarity and eloquence, yet in a language that is easily understood. Where we live, where we are, what we are surrounded by, is not materialistic, but realistic. It does effect who we are. More than one could ever imagine.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Joel P.

    This is a book I will need to read many many times, which it allows thankfully. It is a small book full of huge ideas and philosophies that weave together and escort the reader through the many ideas of architecture, what it is, and what it should and can be. Looking forward to thinking on this book further and returning to it again down the road.

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