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The Architecture of Happiness

3.82  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,341 Ratings  ·  474 Reviews
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
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published October 3rd 2006 by Pantheon (first published 2006)
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Jun 14, 2014 Zanna rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 10, 2009 RandomAnthony rated it liked it
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’
Jun 26, 2009 Janie rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Dec 05, 2009 Marcia rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, architecture
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 ...more
Mar 12, 2014 Ruth rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 14, 2014 Caris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009, design
Like many others, I learned of this book by watching the film 500 Days of Summer. The movie made such a distinct impression on me that I felt I had no choice but to read the book the protagonist gave to his love. Why this book? Why not something romantic?

The simple answer is that this book is incredibly romantic, just not in the cliche way I was looking for. In the opening pages, de Botton expounds on the idea that one must feel the ever-so-memorable cocktail of pain, loss, and heartbreak to eve
Elizabeth  Fuller
Feb 16, 2008 Elizabeth Fuller rated it really liked it
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
Jun 08, 2008 Julia rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jen  Dean
Apr 10, 2008 Jen Dean rated it liked it
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 ...more
May 28, 2012 Steff rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
(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
Nov 21, 2009 Marcus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Dec 21, 2013 Kurt rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Oct 29, 2012 Des rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
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.
Jan 30, 2016 Scott rated it liked it
de Botton's got a more philosophical approach to happiness in architecture that belies the title. While I enjoyed the read, it pales in comparison to the elegance of Christopher Alexander's "A Pattern Language" or the incendiary manifesto of James Howard Kunstler. Good stuff on Japanese aesthetics and old stone. Moss as a virtue. Now I want to sit and contemplate the best buildings I've seen/entered/stayed. The place we ate dinner on our first Paris trip--basement, Ile St. Louis. The house on Wh ...more
Jan 01, 2013 fleetofhorses rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
John Martindale
The philosophy of Architecture and Art is really interesting! I liked this book a lot.
Alain De Botton reflected on so many angles, I look forward to discussing some of the following questions (influenced by this book) with friends.

How important is context when it comes to our behavior and mood?
How does architecture affect us?
How does the philosophy of an age reflect itself in the our architecture?
Why does the concept of beauty change, what causes the change?
Is it possible to land on some basic
Dec 14, 2012 Marion rated it liked it

- p.150:
It is perhaps when our lives are at their most problematic that we are likely to be most receptive to beautiful things.

- p.248:
However, these can in the end always be traced back to nothing more occult than a failure of empathy, to architects who forgot to pay homage to the quirks of the human mind, who allowed themselves to be seduced by a simplistic vision of who we might be, rather than attending to the labyrinthine reality of who we are.

- p. 260:
Keene observed that the Japanese sense
Jun 23, 2009 Iris rated it liked it
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
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 ...more
Mark Mikula
May 07, 2012 Mark Mikula rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2012
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 ...more
Feb 15, 2012 Mykle rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: architects
"Taking architecture seriously ... 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 pr ...more
Nov 27, 2012 Dan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alain de Botton is a bit ridiculous when it comes to the fanciful little stories he tells throughout: "A terraced house on a tree-lined street. Earlier today, the house rang with the sound of children's cries and adult voices, but since the last occupant took off (with her satchel) a few hours ago, it has been left to sample the morning by itself.... Occasionally, the letter-box opens with a rasp to admit a plaintive leaflet." That's from the first paragraph. But, all in all, he does a pretty am ...more
Molly Mccombs
Aug 16, 2015 Molly Mccombs rated it really liked it
Thoroughly enjoyed this highly readable take on architecture and its meaning. So often we hew to a style without thinking about what it says about us personally as wells its greater societal implications. Highly Recommended.
Jun 30, 2014 Ron rated it really liked it
Typically de Botton, which means you either like it, and learn something from it, or think it is excruciatingly middle-brow and condescend toward it. I am of the former. He contemplates how, in various ways, the environment we live in affects us, for good or bad, how we can tell when we have living spaces that make us feel good, and when architecture--by which he includes interior design and landscape design-- fails to speak to our better natures. I think his choices of examples are almost alway ...more
Apr 09, 2014 Margaret rated it really liked it
This month's book club selection - a surprisingly fun and emotive treatise on the ways in which architecture (and art more generally) may reflect our societal moods and needs. A bit self-indulgent at points and definitely somewhat flowery, but absolutely beautifully constructed sentences. Lovely photos as well, though I wish they were in color. Generated great conversation about moods and aesthetic preferences and the impact of our surroundings on our state of minds. Not a book I would have pick ...more
Aug 18, 2014 Evelyn rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Catherine gave me this little book and it was very good. What is great architecture? Buildings are supposed to be made for people to live and work. They should also be nice looking and elegant in their design and evocative of their time. I'm always impressed with authors (like Nabokov) who write beautifully in a second language. de Botton, a French man, writes so beautifully in English. I'm also impressed with well edited books. This one says so much in just 262 pages with tons of pictures. I'll ...more
Lesia Daria
Jan 12, 2016 Lesia Daria rated it it was amazing
It's hard to say anything about Alain de Botton that doesn't make one sound like an uneducated clot by comparison, but here's the thing. This book was not only intellectually satisfying, it actually made me happy. It made me happy to know that I'm not alone. Not only in appreciating design and artistry in buildings, but in deriving actual joy (or despair) from my surroundings. That these surroundings, and therefore architecture and design generally, do matter a great deal to our soul and mental ...more
Uwe Hook
Aug 05, 2015 Uwe Hook rated it it was amazing
Architecture of Happiness is a philosophical and thought provoking book on architecture . De Botton begins by asking, "what is a beautiful building?" and through the book answers the question in inspiring ways. Beauty, he says, lies between the extremities of order and complexity. For a building to be beautiful it needs the confidence and kindness to be a little boring, but too boring and it is condemned for its tedium. "We delight in complexity to which genius has lent an appearance of simplici ...more
May 06, 2015 Gena rated it liked it
When I opened this book I thought it would largely be about happiness. It turned out to be largely about Architecture. Unexpectedly, I was taken along a crash course on art appreciation: from the importance and some basic principles of architecture and design, to the history that structures hold, the messages they convey, the stories they tell. Aside from making me want to let my artsy cousins (hi, Moses and Nica) get their hands on it ASAP, it also filled me with a yearning to travel and look a ...more
Teodora Ştefan
Jun 09, 2014 Teodora Ştefan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Every chapter starts with a photo of a door. How adorable is that! A door is a symbol for beginning, in this case a new idea was born.

I really liked "The Architecture of Happiness" and totally forgot that there's a reference on this book in the movie (500) Days of Summer.

It talks about how architecture influences our life and how it can change our current mood in a minute or less. I understand now, because of this book, what is the practical part in architecture and why architecture really matt
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genre X: July Discussion: Architecture of Happiness 2 16 Jul 13, 2012 07:01PM  
Artistic aspirations and happiness... 1 17 Oct 18, 2011 01:25AM  
architecture and life 1 14 Sep 26, 2011 04:24AM  
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Alain de Botton is a writer and television producer who lives in London and aims to make philosophy relevant to everyday life. He can be contacted by email directly via

He is a writer of essayistic books, which refer both to his own experiences and ideas- and those of artists, philosophers and thinkers. It's a style of writing that has been termed a 'philosophy of everyday lif
More about Alain de Botton...

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“It is in books, poems, paintings which often give us the confidence to take seriously feelings in ourselves that we might otherwise never have thought to acknowledge.” 142 likes
“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 of architectural appreciation. We might, quite aside from all other requirements, need to be a little sad before buildings can properly touch us.” 117 likes
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