Happy buildings

THE ARCHITECTURE OF HAPPINESS by Alain De Botton (McClelland & Stewart), 280 pages, $34.99 cloth. Rating: NNNNAlain de Botton has.


THE ARCHITECTURE OF HAPPINESS by Alain De Botton (McClelland & Stewart), 280 pages, $34.99 cloth. Rating: NNNN


Alain de Botton has set himself up as a genial and thoroughly genteel guide through some of Western civilization’s knottier subjects.

Though he has ruffled a few academic feathers by suggesting that complex and intractable subjects such as Proust and Western philosophy can be condensed into helpful homilies for the average reader, he continues to be a bestseller abroad and in his home country of England.

In The Architecture Of Happiness, De Botton broaches his subject with this simple premise: we build buildings to make ourselves happy.

This grows into a disquisition on the psychological and aesthetic di-mensions of space, the sense of home and what makes a building – and by extension a city – beautiful or interesting.

Illustrated examples, most from the 17th century to the present, address notions like order, scale, uniformity of style and ornamentation.

Since his audience is the general reader and this isn’t a scholarly tract, the ideas here are accessible. De Botton’s book stirs the pleasures of both recognition and discovery as we follow his discussion of a Venetian facade or an apartment block by Le Corbusier.

Mostly, however, we’re reminded that buildings do in some way express spiritual and social ideals that we harried and overburdened creatures may forget to espouse.

To some this may seem a placid and slightly oversimplified thesis grown out of De Botton’s faith in the simple pleasures of culture.

In inviting more of us into the conversation, however, he does architecture a service, democratizing a subject that has too often been the sole preserve of the cult of the lone genius or the faceless urban planner.

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