The Architecture of Happiness by Alain De Botton

Never look to Alain De Botton for answers. His philosophy is the kind that is thought provoking, that opens up questions, that unravels matters; not the sort that resolves things. That isn’t to say that you can’t arrive at your own answers after reading one of his books – but you’ll have to do some thinking yourself to get there. It also means that reading one of his books is a different experience from reading a “standard” philosophical work – he isn’t overly concerned with giving a systematic and consistent picture of his subject matter (in this case architecture) – and if you are expecting that you may find it frustrating. This book is an exploration of what makes architecture interesting to us as human beings, what makes us praise certain kinds of architecture, and what makes us claim that certain pieces of architecture are beautiful. The central claim of the book is that we call architecture beautiful if it promotes values that we wish to be central to our lives. He then tries to identify how architectures can promote those values, and which values are promoted by certain kinds of architectures. Both of these projects are approached unsystematically but with a view to pulling apart some important pieces of the puzzle of why we view architecture as important, how architecture can impact our lives (negatively or positively), and why we view certain pieces of architecture as good or beautiful. As a “theory of architecture” or a “theory of architectural beauty” I think this fails (though it fails in a beautiful manner!); but it succeeds – gloriously –  in highlighting a fruitful way of talking about architecture that readers may find helpful in understanding why they like certain things, and even quite different things in their homes and other buildings. If, like me, you can’t decide how you want to decorate or design your home, are pulled in different directions by the different things that you like, this way of thinking about it may help bring clarity to the chaos of your conflicting tastes. For those reasons, as well as the joyous style of its prose I heartily recommend it.

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~ by Doug Newdick on October 24, 2009.

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