The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton
Best for: People not that familiar with architecture who are interested in learning about it in a philosophical way.
In a nutshell: Author de Botton takes the reader through a lovely journey exploring how the buildings we inhabit can help fill missing pieces in our lives, and impact how we feel.
Line that sticks with me: “The buildings we admire are ultimately those which, in a variety of ways, extol values we think worthwhile.” (p 98)
Why I chose it: I bought this long ago. It’s survived multiple book purges and moves, but I finally opened it up because I’m participating in a book challenge this summer, and one of the categories is a book about art or an artist. To avoid spending all the money, I’m checking my to read pile first, and came across this gem.
Review: I don’t know much (anything?) about architecture. I know that craftsman homes are popular in my current city, and that ranch-style homes were popular where I grew up. I’ve been learning a bit reading the amazing blog McMansion Hell (which I only came across recently thanks to Zillow going after the writer, then having to back off), but I’ve not been able to put my finger on why certain styles depress the hell of me (most one-story homes; any office park a la Office Space), while others bring me joy (pretty much anything in Paris).
This book has helped me to understand a bit better where my tastes lay and why. I am certain that there are architects who would disagree, but much of Mr. de Botton’s premise is that not only does style reflect the available resources and the elements that must be kept out (a house in Phoenix is probably going to look different from a house in Finland), but also the lives we are living. The greatest example of this is when he argues that people who seek out modernist homes are looking for some order in a chaotic life outside the home, whereas those dramatic palaces built in the 1600s weren’t just a fancy show of money, but also an attempt to create beauty in a time that was pretty dangerous (I mean, think about the diseases running rampant through cities).
I feel that I learned about architecture and beauty, but I also got to enjoy some gorgeous writing. The language Mr. de Botton uses throughout is lovely, a perfect accompaniment to the many examples of different styles of home and building. It can be a bit dense at time, but I think it is worth it, especially for those interested in a more philosophical examination of our built environment.
The only reason this is a 4-star book for me is because there are so many lovely pictures in this edition but they are all in black and white, which really takes away from my ability to see the detail and understand more of why they might be examples of architecture that elevates or depresses us. If not for that, this would be a 5-star read.