Bluenose's Reviews > The Architecture of Happiness

The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton
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's review
Jul 27, 2010

This book inspired De Botton to do a TV series called “The Perfect Home” which I have not seen nor even heard of. 57 channels and nothing on indeed. Anyway, I’d like to see it now.

In this book, De Botton is directly and fully engaged with the meaning of architecture and the meaning of design in the greater sense. He includes objects, buildings, landscapes and cities in his ruminations and much is revealed. Architects, generally a poorly educated lot, dream up all sorts of wild and offensive reasons about why people should like – no, love is what they demand – what they do and yet 90% of what they produce is hideous and banal. No, De Botton does not actually say this – I did – but he certainly wonders why we are surrounded by meaningless fakery and he has some pretty good examples (the book is well illustrated).

In spite of all the evidence to the contrary he insists that there can be an authenticity in architecture and design in general but that it is a dauntingly complex task to find it. He’s right. Designing a building is pretty easy. The technical bits are laughably straightforward. But how to create happiness in those who use the buildings? That is his criteria of a building worthy of replacing the nature it supplants.

He points out the relative permanence of buildings – if you can call a few hundred years permanence – and looked at that way, that’s a lot of cumulative happiness or unhappiness.

He has his own definition – no, better to call it a vague idea – of what makes for happiness inducing design and it seems to be derived from observation and experience rather than from historical rules. This is as it should be. Rules are all well and good but the really useful ones could be boiled down to a long pamphlet and then the real work of design can begin. De Botton’s book is a helpful piece of that effort.

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