Friday, March 27, 2009

The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton

This book documents the role of architecture as a profession over centuries in shaping our environment and the rationale behind the decisions they have made.  I do not think any architect purposefully sets out to create an ugly structure.  Sometimes the best intentions do not pan out.  Botton discusses what is the meaning of beauty in architecture.  Who is to say what is beautiful and what is not?  People respond to architecture in different ways based on prior experience.  A person might not like a gothic building because it makes them feel small.  I believe a building to be desirable or offensive on the basis of what it talks to us about.” Architecture, page 73. It seems reasonable to support that people will possess some of the qualities of the buildings they are drawn to. Architecture, page 18.  For centuries, classical architecture went unchallenged because it made sense to the user.   There was symmetry, order and beauty.  Symmetry makes sense to human beings because we, in fact, are symmetrical in form.  Architecture styles have come into being because we, as humans, allow exterior forces, such as religion, to shape our environments.  We are sometimes drawn to architecture that makes us feel better about ourselves or want to be better people.  After WWI, Modernism emerged because we wanted to make sense of a world gone mad.  We surrounded ourselves with function and order.  Ornament became a thing of the past because it was extraneous.  Architecture and design were for the masses not only the privileged and affluent. 

The properties of a room can directly affect the emotions of the people within.  An ugly room can coagulate any loose suspicions as to the incompleteness of life, while a sun-lit one set with honey-colored limestone tiles can lend support to whatever is most hopeful within us. Architecture, ppgs. 12-13.   Botton connects sadness with the ability to truly appreciate beauty.  He believes that someone who has experienced profound sadness will react more strongly to architecture.  It is with a dialogue with pain that many beautiful things acquire their value. Architecture, page 25.  According to the author, we allow culture to define who we are and what our surroundings should look like.  How our neighborhoods and cities should look goes unquestioned because we allow culture to dictate to us.  The greatest changes in architecture came from revolutionaries that were both artistic and practical.  This book can be applied to the rapid growth in green design taking place today.  Architecture needs to respond to the practical and emergent problems that need to be addressed in order for our planet to survive.

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