The Architecture of Happiness

A couple of months ago, I saw this book while browsing in the bookstore, and the name got my attention right away – “The Architecture of Happiness” by Alain De Botto. I had a chance to read it last week, once you start you keep flipping the pages! I think it is one of the finest books of architectural theory and criticism by a non-architect. The photos complement the text nicely. Here is some excerpt from the book that I liked and would like to share with you.

“Belief in the significance of architecture is premised on the notion that we are, for better or worse, different places – and on the conviction that it is architecture’s task to render vivid to us who we might ideally be.” (page 13)

“Architecture may well possess moral messages; it simply has no power to enforce them. It offers suggestions instead of making laws. It invites, rather than orders, us to emulate its spirit and cannot prevent its own abuse.” (page 20)

“If the function of a plane was to fly, what was the function of a house? The function of a house was, Le Corbusier wrote, to provide: “1. A shelter against heat, cold, rain, thieves and the inquisitive. 2. A receptacle for light and sun. 3. A certain number of cells appropriated to cooking, work, and personal life.” (page 57)

“The desire to remember unites our reasons for building for the living and for the dead. As we put up tombs, markers and mausoleums to memorialize lost loved ones, so do we construct and decorate buildings to help us recall the important but fugitive parts of ourselves, the pictures and chairs in our homes are the equivalents – scaled for our own day, attuned to the demands of the living – of the giant burial mounds of Paleolithic times. Our domestic fittings, too, are memorials to identity.” (page 124)

“If buildings can act as a repository of our ideals, it is because they can be purged of all the infelicities that corrode ordinary lives. A great work of architecture will speak to us of a degree of serenity, strength, poise, and grace to which we, both as creators and audiences, typically cannot do justice – and it will for this reason beguile and move us. Architecture excites our respect to the extent that it surpasses us.” (page 137)

“While a common reaction to seeing a thing of beauty is to want to buy it, our real desire may be not so much to own what we find beautiful as to lay permanent claim to the inner qualities it embodies.” (page 150)

“…we are drawn to call something beautiful whenever we detect that it contains in a concentrated form those qualities in which we personally, or our societies more generally, are deficient. We respect a style that can move us away from what we fear and towards what we crave: a style that carries the correct dosage of our missing virtues. That we need art in the first place is a sign that we stand in almost permanent danger of imbalance, of failing to regulate our extremes, of losing our grip on the golden mean between life’s great opposites: boredom and excitement, reason and imagination, simplicity and complexity, safety and danger, austerity and luxury.” (page 157)

“Though we tend to believe, in architecture as in literature, that an important work should be complicated, many appealing buildings are surprisingly simple, even repetitive in their designs.” (page 182)

“Beneath the pleasure generated by the juxtaposition of order and complexity, we can identify the subsidiary architectural virtue of balance. Beauty is a likely outcome whenever architects skillfully mediate between any number of oppositions, including the old and the new, the natural and the man-made, the luxurious and the modest, and the masculine and the feminine.” (page 195)

“To design means forcing ourselves to unlearn what we believe we already know, patiently to take apart the mechanisms behind our reflexes and to acknowledge the mystery and stupefying complexity of everyday gestures like switching off a light or turning on a tap.” (page 247)

“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.” (page 249)

“We owe it to the fields that our houses will not be the inferiors of the virgin land they have replaced. We owe it to the worms and the trees that the buildings we cover them with will stand as promises of the highest and most intelligent kinds of happiness.” (page 267)

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