The Architecture Of Happiness
The Architecture of Happiness is a book by Alain de Botton (ISBN 978-0241142486) which discusses the importance of beauty, published by Pantheon Books in 2006. De Botton, inspired by Stendhal's motto "beauty is the promise of happiness," analyzes human surroundings and how human needs and desires manifest their ideals in architecture.
The Architecture of Happiness
The book attracted favourable attention from architects and architectural critics. In the Boston Globe, the architectural critic Robert Campbell declared it the "best introduction to architecture" that he had ever read. There was favorable comment from UK, US and Australian critics. The book featured prominently in the film 500 Days of Summer, where it was the reading matter of choice for the protagonist. In recognition of his services to architecture with the book, the RIBA made Alain de Botton an honorary fellow of the Institute in February 2010.
The architecture and sense of style around us can change affect moods and explain something about ourselves. That's the crux of Alain de Botton's argument in his new book The Architecture of Happiness.
Author and philosopher Alain de Botton has written about big thinkers, big ideas and about some of the giants of literature. In his latest book, he reveals his own ambitions to think large, this time about design and architecture and what he calls an aesthetic revolution. He describes why style, a beautiful house or exquisitely designed teacup, can bring such joy and why a gloomy hotel room can make us question the meaning of life.
CONAN: And it's interesting. One of the first things you address in your book is some suspicions, some doubts about the nature of architecture and its ability to change our world. You question its seriousness and its moral worth.
Mr. DE BOTTON: That's right. I mean I think anyone who really likes art in general, but architecture more specifically, comes up very quickly against some uncomfortable sort of insights and truths. One of the people with one of the nicest houses in all of 20th century Europe was Hermann Goering. He ransacked Europe looking for beautiful pieces of art and furniture and built this really sumptuous house. And it didn't do him much good.
I think somewhere at the back of our minds there's an assumption that investing in good art and design and creating a beautiful series of spaces will in some way improve us, will sort of make us better. But the example of Goering's house quickly shows us that I think that works of architecture do have kind of moral messages, you could say, but they're not laws. They're not legally binding. They can't force you to be nice. They can only suggest that you be so.
Mr. DE BOTTON: That's right. Having spent about 15 years of his life studying the glories of Venice, in a moment of kind of depressive lucidity he was forced to acknowledge that many Venetians were not cheered up on a daily basis by their surroundings. That's not to say that architecture doesn't matter. It's just one has to acknowledge some of the hurdles in the way.
Mr. DE BOTTON: Yes, I mean this is something that - you know, the 19th century offered us that lovely word the effete, somebody who cares in a way too much about architecture and beauty. The most famous effete of the 19th century was of course Oscar Wilde, who famously said that the wrong kind of wallpaper could upset him far worse than a death in the family. And there is a way in which a love of architecture can push aside concerns for other things.
CONAN: One of the most interesting passages I thought in your book: We may need to have made an indelible mark on our lives, to have married the wrong person, pursued an unfulfilling career into middle age or lost a loved one before architecture can begin to have any perceptible impact on us. But when we speak of being moved by a building, we allude to a bittersweet feeling of contrast between the noble qualities written into a structure and the sadder, wider reality within which we know them to exist.
And I think the beautiful things are things of the moment. You know, you're passing through a room. You happen to appreciate the way the wooden floorboards are arranged or something. So I think that there's - in a way, people who put their faith in architecture have to remember that it's not a faith akin to, I don't know, trying to restart the world anew or create a revolution or something. It's a modest ambition, a very, very important ambition, but a modest one.
And I think many, especially younger people who are studying architecture, sometimes want to remake the world through architecture. And I think, you know, to some extent you can, but you have to be modest about it as well. Because sometimes, you know, you can be in the most beautiful building in the world, but if you've got a headache that headache will wipe out any advantage that the building might have been able to provide.
PAT (Caller): Hi, I just wanted to talk about some churches, especially one in particular - Our Lady of Victory in Lackawanna, New York, right outside of the city of Buffalo. And, you know, it's kind of all the artwork and just when you walk in it kind of has the spiritual sort of uplifting effect on you, you know, not only the architecture itself but a lot of the artwork inside.
Mr. DE BOTTON: I think that's fascinating. I think that churches and religious buildings generally teach us a lot about architecture. They really teach us a very basic lesson, which is we don't think the same way wherever we are, that there are certain buildings that put us in certain frames of mind.
You know, a well decorated, a beautiful church will put us into a mindset where we're more receptive to dwelling on certain issues. And, you know, a supermarket will direct our thoughts in other ways. And that's why religions have, perhaps more than any other entity, been very aware of the power of architecture. Because we're not the same people wherever we are. And if we get the buildings right, we'll end up, according to certain religions, we'll end up being the sort of people that these religions want us to be.
Mr. DE BOTTON: That's right. I mean if you look at architecture all over the West, you know, right from, I don't know, San Francisco to St. Petersburg, there was a consensus for hundreds of years that a beautiful building, especially a courthouse or an important building, should be a classical building. You know, classical buildings still around in an awful lot of places.
But that consensus starts to break down in the 19th century and then on into the 20th. And suddenly a lot of different styles come about: the gothic style, the Jacobean style, the Islamic style. Suddenly you get a new choice in architecture.
And whereas choice is a wonderful thing in many areas of life, when it comes to architecture, if you have a city or a town where all the buildings look different, they all seem like they're in a way having an argument among themselves. That can be very disorienting and confusing. And among many architects for really a hundred years or so, there's been a search to try and find some style which would win everyone over so that we wouldn't have chaos in our cities, and that search is ongoing.
And part of the problem with contemporary architecture is the belief that the architect is a kind of lone genius whose task it is to produce something utterly different from what's come before. And that's led in many cases to streets which are seriously sort of disconnected and are not giving out a coherent message.
And your point about money is I think very interesting. You know, many people say, well, surely we need a lot of money to create good architecture. You know, if only it were that simple. Anyone who's ever driven along, I don't know, some of the more unfortunate streets in Beverly Hills or in Bishops Avenue in London will realize that a lot of money does not itself guarantee good architecture. Just as anyone who's wondering around certain hill villages in Italy, say, will quickly realize that a modest budget never condemns a building to ugliness either. It's unfortunately about the intelligence of the design.
But let's get back to our conversation with Alain de Botton about his new book, The Architecture of Happiness. And, Alain de Botton, I realize it's disconcerting to be talking about damage to a high-rise apartment building in New York City and the philosophical principles of architecture, but it is an important point. We were discussing before the break the idea of money, and you say we don't have to put up with mediocrity anymore.
Mr. DE BOTTON: No, that's right. I mean I think that some of the problem is that in our education system we get taught a lot about literature, we get taught a lot about pictures, about art. What we don't ever get taught about is architecture, even though it's the art form - of all the art forms, it's the one that has the greatest influences on us. It's the one that costs the most, and it's the one that really colors our lives. And it sticks around for a very, very long time.
So I think it's very important for people to, as it were, educate themselves in architecture so that we'll be less at the behest of property developers who come along and, as it were, abuse our ignorance of architecture by saying, well, you know, no one really knows what's beautiful and what's ugly so, you know, here's a condominium block and, you know, I'm sure you'll like if you looked at it in the right way.
And then some of the other ones have a more classical style, the kind of things you would see on a movie or on TV where like a happy family would live, and they almost look like little homes. I mean those are the places that I want to live because they give me a good feeling just looking at the architecture, you know. Like this is where I want to live. We're going to have a happy family.
Mr. DE BOTTON: Yes, I mean I think the desire for people to have that quality of homeliness is really, really important. And, you know, it's not something that ever gets taught in architecture school. Architects don't get taught to create homely feelings. Unfortunately, what that's done is that it makes generations of people always look towards old buildings as the sort of places they want to live in. They don't want to live in them because they're old. They want to live in them because older architects, older schools of architecture were much better off than more modern ones at capturing the feelings of homeliness. 041b061a72