The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton
(Vintage, 2008, 288 pages)
Can encounters with beauty make us better people? Can well designed and constructed built environments make our lives more satisfying? These are the sorts of questions that Alain de Botton explores in The Architecture of Happiness. The book is an introduction to architectural aesthetics, and it includes lots of photographs that illustrate the various principles that are discussed. Here is a passage that illustrates de Botton’s core convictions about the importance and possibilities of good architecture:
“Belief in the significance of architecture is premised on the notion that we are, for better or for worse, different people in different places – and on the conviction that it is architecture’s task to render vivid to us who we might ideally be.” (13)
De Botton draws out the ways that we inevitably personify objects, and makes the claim that this tendency requires that we be conscience of and intentional about the character and qualities that we endow our buildings with. He eschews hard and fast rules about what makes a building or a city beautiful, but neither does he allow complete subjectivity. Instead, he offers principles, or “virtues” that should characterize what we build, including order, balance, elegance, coherence, and self-knowledge.
It is easy to move through day to day-to-day life without paying much attention to the built environments we inhabit. De Botton does an excellent job of making the case that, regardless of how much attention we are paying, our surroundings exert considerable influence on the quality of our lives.