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The Architecture of Happiness by Alain De…
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The Architecture of Happiness (original 2006; edition 2007)

by Alain De Botton (Author)

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2,029427,040 (3.66)34
One of the great, but often unmentioned, causes of both happiness and misery is the quality of our environment: the kind of walls, chairs, buildings and streets we're surrounded by. 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 can be - and argues that it is architecture's task to stand as an eloquent reminder of our full potential.Whereas many architects are wary of openly discussing the word beauty, this audiobook has at its centre the large and naïve question: 'What is a beautiful building?' It amounts to a tour through the philosophy and psychology of architecture, which aims to change the way we think about our homes, streets and ourselves.… (more)
Member:Poet3
Title:The Architecture of Happiness
Authors:Alain De Botton (Author)
Info:Penguin (2007), Edition: New Ed, 280 pages
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The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton (2006)

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Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
Finished The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton. In this book de Botton does for whole buildings what Gallagher does for the rooms within a home in House Thinking. de Botton discusses what makes different architectures appealing and tries to answer the question "how can we judge the quality of architecture when we admit that no style is universally the best?" As I see it, he answers the questions in three ways, which i shall discuss in more detail below.

Architecture and psychology



The first answer will resonate with anyone who enjoys environmental psychology. Buildings should appeal to the psychological needs of those who interact with them. At the most basic level, this implies that the form of a building should be related to its function, but it goes beyond that. A building also needs to appeal to the deeper psychological needs of the culture and time it belongs in. de Botton boils these psychological needs down to two main categories: memory and ideals.

Memory



Memories are triggered by surroundings (as well as by smell, sound, any input really). A building that reminds one too much of school may cause one to feel anxiety or pleasure, depending on one's experience in the educational system. While it is impossible for an architect to know what memories will be triggered in any specific person, there are cultural memories that are can be embedded in architecture.

Ideals



Architecture is psychologically related to the past through memory. It is related to the future through ideals. People will react positively to architecture that reflects who they want to be. An unorganized person who wants to be organized may find simple architecture more appealing than ornamental architecture. Good architecture should reflect the ideals of its intended audience.

The Effect of Time



Designing a building to appeal to the psychology of a group of people means that a building may not always be considered as wonderful as it was when it was first built. As the associations with a particular type of architecture change, perceptions of a building will change. As the needs and ideals of a society change, perceptions of a building will change. This means that no architectural style is really timeless (although a building may be, as a historical artifact). However, that is okay, as long as the new styles (which may very well be rehashes of older styles) appeal to the needs of their time.

Virtues of Buildings



All that psychological mumbo jumbo aside, de Botton does argue that there are some basic aesthetic principles that can be used to judge a building or an architectural style.

Order



de Botton claims that we tend to like spaces that are ordered. What he means by this is that people like places where they can see some mark of intention and intelligence. People like to know that things are how they are because of some plan. I relate order to Mehrabian's idea of load as described in Public Places and Private Spaces. The idea of load is that a place requires some amount of mental processing. Places that require a large amount of mental processing are perceived negatively when a person does not have the desire or ability to put that much attention into the place. Order is appealing because it reduces the load of a place. Order is contrasted with complexity. Too little complexity (too much order) is boring. When the load of a place is too low, the mental processing is too easy and, if one does not having something to distract oneself with, the place will start to seem boring.

Balance



Balance is achieved when, in the words of de Botton,

architects skilfully 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.

The appeal of balance is that it introduces the unexpected. One of the components that contributes to load in Mehrabian's work is the arousal/non-arousal spectrum. By providing balance between contrasting elements, an architect can increase the arousal of a place. This makes the place more stimulating, and, therefore, more interesting. However, a person who feels that the contrasting elements are not balanced may feel overly aroused because one element is perceived as unexpected. If the increased arousal is not balanced by some pleasurable aspect, the place will be perceived negatively.

Elegance



The third architectural "virtue" that de Botton discusses is elegance. Elegance, in this book, represents the "wow" or "how does it do that" factor of architecture. It involves overcoming a challenge with seeming ease. I relate elegance to the dominance/submissiveness axis in Mehrabian's work. A thin column, a long bridge, or complex and functionally unnecessary ornamentation demonstrates that the architect, engineers, and workers and, by extension, humanity and the observer have conquered nature and, seemingly, even physics by creating something that demonstrates their skill and superiority. However, a point de Botton does not bring up is that elegance must be trustworthy. A column that seems too thin to hold up a roof will make the building feel unsafe (at least until people adapt to the new materials or techniques that made it possible).

Coherence



A building in incoherent if it is trying to be something it is not. A skyscraper that imitates the style of traditional 1 or 2 story buildings will look out of place. Short buildings, because their width is generally comparable to or greater than their height, tend to stress the horizontal. A tall skinny window looks much more out of place on a standard home than a wide picture window. Incoherence comes about when architectures try to borrow from other styles without understanding what impression the elements they borrow give or why they work for existing buildings. Coherence, to put it squishily, is a way of evaluating the degree to which a building spiritually fits in to larger physical and cultural communities it is a part of. By understanding what makes a building coherent, an architect can design a building that is superficially different from the buildings around it but fits in better than a building that just borrows the trappings of the buildings around it without understanding them.

Self-knowledge



Self-knowledge in architecture applies when an architect designs a building that fits the real needs (and weaknesses) of people. A tower surrounded by green parks may be a more efficient method of housing than many houses with tiny yards, but in a densely packed tower, one disruptive person has the ability to cause a large disruption. This point is where the chapter on virtues touches most closely on environmental psychology. The most beautiful and logical building in the world can be considered a failure if it was not built with an understanding of how people will really use it.

As good as the land it's replacing



Good architecture, according to de Botton, should be as good as the land that it is replacing. When land has been built upon, people should feel that while something has been lost, something just as good (different, but just as good) should be gained. If a building is thoughtfully and beautifully built, "the promise of a field", as the chapter is called, will be fulfilled. One conclusion you can draw from this is that it is okay to destroy nature with beautiful buildings, but I do not think that is what de Botton means (if so, shame on him!). I think what he means is that if we are going to destroy nature by building on it, we should design buildings that are beautiful and that fitting. That, I can agree with.

Conclusion



One thing I like about this book is that it has lots and lots of pictures (I really think the book might be half pictures). However, like House Thinking, there is a lot of emphasis on specific examples and not quite enough general discussion to suit my taste. Most of what I wrote above was what I extracted from the examples rather than things set out explicitly. Yet, I suppose, it is good practice for me to study actual examples and draw conclusions for them. Overall, this was an excellent book. ( )
  eri_kars | Jul 10, 2022 |
de Botton discusses what makes different architectural styles appealing and tries to answer the question "How can we judge the quality of architecture when we admit that no style is universally the best?" As I see it, he answers the questions in three ways.

Architecture and psychology

The first answer will resonate with anyone who enjoys environmental psychology. Buildings should appeal to the psychological needs of those who interact with them. At the most basic level, this implies that the form of a building should be related to its function, but it goes beyond that. A building also needs to appeal to the deeper psychological needs of the culture and time it belongs in. de Botton boils these psychological needs down to two main categories: memory and ideals.

Memory

Memories are triggered by surroundings (as well as by smell, sound -- any input really). A building that reminds one too much of school may cause one to feel anxiety or pleasure, depending on one's experience in the educational system. While it is impossible for an architect to know what memories will be triggered in any specific person, there are cultural memories that are can be embedded in architecture.

Ideals

Architecture is psychologically related to the past through memory. It is related to the future through ideals. People will react positively to architecture that reflects who they want to be. An unorganized person who wants to be organized may find simple architecture more appealing than ornamental architecture. Good architecture should reflect the ideals of its intended audience.

The Effect of Time

Designing a building to appeal to the psychology of a particular group of people means that a building may not always be considered as wonderful as it was when it was first built. As the associations with a particular type of architecture change, perceptions of a building will change. As the needs and ideals of a society change, perceptions of a building will change. This means that no architectural style is really timeless (although a building may be, as a historical artifact). However, that is okay, as long as the new styles (which may very well be rehashes of older styles) appeal to the needs of their time.

Virtues of Buildings

All that psychological mumbo jumbo aside, de Botton does argue that there are some basic aesthetic principles that can be used to judge a building or an architectural style.

Order

de Botton claims that we tend to like spaces that are ordered. What he means by this is that people like places where they can see some mark of intention and intelligence. People like to know that things are how they are because of some plan. I relate order to Mehrabian's idea of load as described in Public Places and Private Spaces. The idea of load is that a place requires some amount of mental processing. Places that require a large amount of mental processing are perceived negatively when a person does not have the desire or ability to put that much attention into the place. Order is appealing because it reduces the load of a place. Order is contrasted with complexity. Too little complexity (too much order) is boring. When the load of a place is too low, the mental processing is too easy and, if one does not having something to distract oneself with, the place will start to seem boring.

Balance

Balance is achieved when, in the words of de Botton,architects skilfully 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. The appeal of balance is that it introduces the unexpected. One of the components that contributes to load in Mehrabian's work is the arousal/non-arousal spectrum. By providing balance between contrasting elements, an architect can increase the arousal of a place. This makes the place more stimulating, and, therefore, more interesting. However, a person who feels that the contrasting elements are not balanced may feel overly aroused because one element is perceived as unexpected. If the increased arousal is not balanced by some pleasurable aspect, the place will be perceived negatively.

Elegance

The third architectural "virtue" that de Botton discusses is elegance. Elegance, in this book, represents the "wow" or "how does it do that?" factor of architecture. It involves overcoming a challenge with seeming ease. I relate elegance to the dominance/submissiveness axis in Mehrabian's work. A thin column, a long bridge, or complex and functionally unnecessary ornamentation demonstrates that the architect, engineers, and workers and, by extension, humanity and the observer have conquered nature and, seemingly, even physics by creating something that demonstrates their skill and superiority. However, a point de Botton does not bring up is that elegance must be trustworthy. A column that seems too thin to hold up a roof will make the building feel unsafe (at least until people adapt to the new materials or techniques that made it possible).

Coherence

A building in incoherent if it is trying to be something it is not. A skyscraper that imitates the style of traditional 1 or 2 story buildings will look out of place. Short buildings, because their width is generally comparable to or greater than their height, tend to stress the horizontal. A tall skinny window looks much more out of place on a standard home than a wide picture window. Incoherence comes about when architectures try to borrow from other styles without understanding what impression the elements they borrow give or why they work for existing buildings. Coherence, to put it squishily, is a way of evaluating the degree to which a building spiritually fits in to larger physical and cultural communities it is a part of. By understanding what makes a building coherent, an architect can design a building that is superficially different from the buildings around it but fits in better than a building that just borrows the trappings of the buildings around it without understanding them.

Self-knowledge

Self-knowledge in architecture applies when an architect designs a building that fits the real needs (and weaknesses) of people. A tower surrounded by green parks may be a more efficient method of housing than many houses with tiny yards, but in a densely packed tower, one disruptive person has the ability to cause a large disruption. This point is where the chapter on virtues touches most closely on environmental psychology. The most beautiful and logical building in the world can be considered a failure if it was not built with an understanding of how people will really use it.

As good as the land it's replacing

Good architecture, according to de Botton, should be as good as the land that it is replacing. When land has been built upon, people should feel that while something has been lost, something just as good (different, but just as good) should be gained. If a building is thoughtfully and beautifully built, "the promise of a field", as the chapter is called, will be fulfilled. One conclusion you can draw from this is that it is okay to destroy nature with beautiful buildings, but I do not think that is what de Botton means (if so, shame on him!). I think what he means is that if we are going to destroy nature by building on it, we should design buildings that are beautiful and that fitting. That, I can agree with.

Conclusion

One thing I like about this book is that it has lots and lots of pictures (I really think the book might be half pictures). However, like in Gallagher's House Thinking, there is an emphasis on specific examples and not quite enough general discussion to suit my taste. Most of what I wrote above was what I extracted from the examples rather than things set out explicitly. Yet, I suppose, it is good practice for me to study actual examples and draw conclusions for them. Overall, this was an excellent book. ( )
  eri_kars | Jul 10, 2022 |
Not what I had hoped or thought it would be: how we design and construct happiness. Rather, this should've been titled "The Happiness of Architecture," because architecture is the chief topic. Much discussion about aesthetics. I'm surprised that there was little mention (or any?) of the character of a house or building. Nor was there much (if any?) mention of the importance of landscaping to the appreciation of architecture, the two of them complementing one another. ( )
  MarkLacy | May 29, 2022 |
I do love architecture and frequently find myself fascinated by examples of architecture while traveling. This is a beautifully written book, sort of part philosophy and part close observation of building and design and, if you like that sort of thing, you might try this. One caveat: the section on why buildings speak to us is pure anthropomorphic blather. De Botton is better than this. You could skip it to avoid being annoyed, but the illustrations are worth a look. Regardless, I would read the book again, no problem, and recommend it to others. ( )
  PattyLee | Dec 14, 2021 |
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One of the great, but often unmentioned, causes of both happiness and misery is the quality of our environment: the kind of walls, chairs, buildings and streets we're surrounded by. 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 can be - and argues that it is architecture's task to stand as an eloquent reminder of our full potential.Whereas many architects are wary of openly discussing the word beauty, this audiobook has at its centre the large and naïve question: 'What is a beautiful building?' It amounts to a tour through the philosophy and psychology of architecture, which aims to change the way we think about our homes, streets and ourselves.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141015004, 0141806753

 

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