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The Architecture of Happiness
 
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The Architecture of Happiness [Format Kindle]

Alain de Botton
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Extrait

I. The Significance of Architecture

1.

A terraced house on a tree-lined street. Earlier today, the house rang with the sound of children's cries and adult voices, but since the last occupant took off (with her satchel) a few hours ago, it has been left to sample the morning by itself. The sun has risen over the gables of the buildings opposite and now washes through the ground- floor windows, painting the interior walls a buttery yellow and warming the grainy-red brick façade. Within shafts of sunlight, platelets of dust move as if in obedience to the rhythms of a silent waltz. From the hallway, the low murmur of accelerating traffic can be detected a few blocks away. Occasionally, the letter-box opens with a rasp to admit a plaintive leaflet.

The house gives signs of enjoying the emptiness. It is rearranging itself after the night, clearing its pipes and cracking its joints. This dignified and seasoned creature, with its coppery veins and wooden feet nestled in a bed of clay, has endured much: balls bounced against its garden flanks, doors slammed in rage, headstands attempted along its corridors, the weight and sighs of electrical equipment and the probings of inexperienced plumbers into its innards. A family of four shelters in it, joined by a colony of ants around the foundations and, in spring time, by broods of robins in the chimney stack. It also lends a shoulder to a frail (or just indolent) sweet-pea which leans against the garden wall, indulging the peripatetic courtship of a circle of bees.

The house has grown into a knowledgeable witness. It has been party to early seductions, it has watched homework being written, it has observed swaddled babies freshly arrived from hospital, it has been surprised in the middle of the night by whispered conferences in the kitchen. It has experienced winter evenings when its windows were as cold as bags of frozen peas and midsummer dusks when its brick walls held the warmth of newly baked bread.

It has provided not only physical but also psychological sanctuary. It has been a guardian of identity. Over the years, its owners have returned from periods away and, on looking around them, remembered who they were. The flagstones on the ground floor speak of serenity and aged grace, while the regularity of the kitchen cabinets offers a model of unintimidating order and discipline. The dining table, with its waxy tablecloth printed with large buttercups, suggests a burst of playfulness which is thrown into relief by a sterner concrete wall nearby. Along the stairs, small still-lives of eggs and lemons draw attention to the intricacy and beauty of everyday things. On a ledge beneath a window, a glass jar of cornflowers helps to resist the pull towards dejection. On the upper floor, a narrow empty room allows space for restorative thoughts to hatch, its skylight giving out onto impatient clouds migrating rapidly over cranes and chimney pots.

Although this house may lack solutions to a great many of its occupants' ills, its rooms nevertheless give evidence of a happiness to which architecture has made its distinctive contribution.

2.

Yet a concern for architecture has never been free from a degree of suspicion. Doubts have been raised about the subject's seriousness, its moral worth and its cost. A thought-provoking number of the world's most intelligent people have disdained any interest in decoration and design, equating contentment with discarnate and invisible matters instead.

The Ancient Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus is said to have demanded of a heart-broken friend whose house had burnt to the ground, 'If you really understand what governs the universe, how can you yearn for bits of stone and pretty rock?' (It is unclear how much longer the friendship lasted.) Legend recounts that after hearing the voice of God, the Christian hermit Alexandra sold her house, shut herself in a tomb and never looked at the outside world again, while her fellow hermit Paul of Scete slept on a blanket on the floor of a windowless mud hut and recited 300 prayers every day, suffering only when he heard of another holy man who had managed 700 and slept in a coffin.

Such austerity has been a historical constant. In the spring of 1137 the Cistercian monk St Bernard of Clairvaux travelled all the way around Lake Geneva without noticing it was even there. Likewise, after four years in his monastery, St Bernard could not report whether the dining area had a vaulted ceiling (it does) or how many windows there were in the sanctuary of his church (three). On a visit to the Charterhouse of Dauphiné, St Bernard astonished his hosts by arriving on a magnificent white horse diametrically opposed to the ascetic values he professed, but he explained that he had borrowed the animal from a wealthy uncle and had simply failed to register its appearance on a four-day journey across France.

3.

Nevertheless, such determined efforts to scorn visual experience have always been matched by equally persistent attempts to mould the material world to graceful ends. People have strained their backs carving flowers into their roof beams and their eyesight embroidering animals onto their tablecloths. They have given up weekends to hide unsightly cables behind ledges. They have thought carefully about appropriate kitchen work-surfaces. They have imagined living in unattainably expensive houses pictured in magazines and then felt sad, as one does on passing an attractive stranger in a crowded street.

We seem divided between an urge to override our senses and numb ourselves to our settings and a contradictory impulse to acknowledge the extent to which our identities are indelibly connected to, and will shift along with, our locations. An ugly room can coagulate any loose suspicions as to the incompleteness of life, while a sun-lit one set with honey-coloured limestone tiles can lend support to whatever is most hopeful within us.

Belief in the significance of architecture is premised on the notion that we are, for better or for worse, different people in different places - and on the conviction that it is architecture's task to render vivid to us who we might ideally be.

4.

We are sometimes eager to celebrate the influence of our surroundings. In the living room of a house in the Czech Republic, we see an example of how walls, chairs and floors can combine to create an atmosphere in which the best sides of us are offered the opportunity to flourish. We accept with gratitude the power that a single room can possess.

But sensitivity to architecture also has its more problematic aspects. If one room can alter how we feel, if our happiness can hang on the colour of the walls or the shape of a door, what will happen to us in most of the places we are forced to look at and inhabit? What will we experience in a house with prison-like windows, stained carpet tiles and plastic curtains?

It is to prevent the possibility of permanent anguish that we can be led to shut our eyes to most of what is around us, for we are never far from damp stains and cracked ceilings, shattered cities and rusting dockyards. We can't remain sensitive indefinitely to environments which we don't have the means to alter for the good - and end up as conscious as we can afford to be. Echoing the attitude of Stoic philosophers or St Bernard around Lake Geneva, we may find ourselves arguing that, ultimately, it doesn't much matter what buildings look like, what is on the ceiling or how the wall is treated - professions of detachment that stem not so much from an insensitivity to beauty as from a desire to deflect the sadness we would face if we left ourselves open to all of beauty's many absences.

5.

There is no shortage of reasons to be suspicious of the ambition to create great architecture. Buildings rarely make palpable the efforts that their construction demands. They are coyly silent about the bankruptcies, the delays, the fear and the dust that they impose. A nonchalant appearance is a frequent feature of their charm. It is only when we try our own hand at construction that we are initiated into the torments associated with persuading materials and other humans to cooperate with our designs, with ensuring that two pieces of glass will be joined in a neat line, that a lamp will hang symmetrically over the stairs, that a boiler will light up when it should or that concrete pillars will marry a roof without complaint.

Even when we have attained our goals, our buildings have a grievous tendency to fall apart again with precipitate speed. It can be hard to walk into a freshly decorated house without feeling preemptively sad at the decay impatiently waiting to begin: how soon the walls will crack, the white cupboards will yellow and the carpets stain. The ruins of the Ancient World offer a mocking lesson for anyone waiting for builders to finish their work. How proud the householders of Pompeii must have been.

In his essay 'On Transience' (1916) Sigmund Freud recalled a walk he took in the Dolomite Mountains with the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. It was an exquisite summer's day; the flowers were in bloom and brightly coloured butterflies danced above the meadows. The psychoanalyst was glad to be outdoors (it had been raining all week), but his companion walked with his head bowed, his eyes fixed on the ground, and remained taciturn throughout the excursion. It wasn't that Rilke was oblivious to the beauty around him; he simply could not overlook how impermanent everything was. In Freud's words, he was unable to forget 'that all this beauty was fated to extinc...

From Publishers Weekly

With this entertaining and stimulating book, de Botton (How Proust Can Change Your Life) examines the ways architecture speaks to us, evoking associations that, if we are alive to them, can put us in touch with our true selves and influence how we conduct our lives. Because of this, he contends, it's the architect's task to design buildings that contribute to happiness by embodying ennobling values. While he makes no claim to be able to define true beauty in architecture, he suggests some of the virtues a building should have (illustrated by pictures on almost every spread): order combined with complexity; balance between contrasting elements; elegance that appears effortless; a coherent relationship among the parts; and self-knowledge, which entails an understanding of human psychology, something that architects all too often overlook. To underscore his argument, de Botton includes many apt examples of buildings that either incorporate or ignore these qualities, discussing them in ways that make obvious their virtues or failings. The strength of his book is that it encourages us to open our eyes and really look at the buildings in which we live and work. A three-part series of the same title will air on PBS this fall. (Oct. 3)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Commentaires client les plus utiles
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Pertinent et bien charpenté 25 mai 2013
Par Shuffbel
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
Dans la lignée des ouvrages de De Botton. Agréable à lire, mais on ne sait pas toujours où l'auteur veut en arriver ...
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Amazon.com: 4.1 étoiles sur 5  91 commentaires
106 internautes sur 114 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Couldn't wait to read it! 26 avril 2006
Par Charles S. Houser - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
I'm a big fan of Alain de Botton's writing, so when I saw that his newest book, "The Architecture of Happiness" would not be released in the US until October 2006, I ordered it directly from Amazon.uk. I read it in two or three days and was not disappointed. Botton has a great way of connecting the writings and thoughts of the great minds of world civilization to everyday human experiences. In this case, to the kinds of buildings (public and private) we build or aspire to build, or conversely, tolerate and settle for. The book is amply illustrated. As nice as these photographs and illustrations are, Botton's writing is so precise and illustrative in its own right that the illustrations are not always necessary.

In contrast to "The Art of Travel" and "The Consolations of Philosophy", Botton's new book does not rely on quotations from ancient and modern philosphers and theorists to make its points. Quotations are few, but apt. In compensation, though, I feel Botton is exposing the reader more directly to his own thoughts, observations, and assessments. He is less melancholic than in his earlier works; also, less clever and cute. He's as interesting as ever; just more authentic, exposed, and confident in his own voice. As I was reading I found that the sentences I wanted to underline were mostly Botton's own, not those of someone he was quoting. One of these should give you a good idea of where this book will take you: "We arrange around us material forms which communicate to us what we need--but are at constant risk of forgetting we need--within. We turn to wallpaper, benches, paintings and streets to staunch the disappearance of our true selves." (p. 107)

It's hard to remain a sleepwalker after reading one of Alain de Botton's books. An they always bear re-reading. (A sticker on the cover of the book identifies "The Architecture of Happiness" as the inspiration of the TV series "The Perfect Home." I hope it's a show that gets picked up in the US or comes out on DVD.)
43 internautes sur 46 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The Responsibility of Creation 26 octobre 2006
Par J. Brian Watkins - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
To read De Botton is to go on a journey to places at once unexpected yet familiar; for example, one point is supported by reference to a diagram of nose shapes and sizes. His books teach rather than exposit; they do not lack for a direct thesis--they make arguments and reach conclusions. In this book on architecture the point is made that we have a responsibility to create something that is worthy of the natural surroundings that will be altered by the creation. We have the ability and resources to transcend mere engineering concerns and the argument is made in this book that we have a duty to do so.

Obviously we cannot live the modern life stuck out in a meadow, no matter how beautiful the scenery--but our author argues that is equally difficult (or pointless) to live in a community of soulless boxes, that architecture which fails to honor aesthetic ideals is a failure even if it keeps the weather out. Good architecture is the result not of adherence to classical ideals, budget measures or engineering goals but of a balance achieved among the almost infinite range of available architectural choices.

The author understands that in order to bring his reader to an appreciation for balance in architecture that he must provide a context--he has to demonstrate when things are out of balance. De Botton excels in providing just the right amount of history, pictorial evidence, contemporary example and discussion--in fact, his presentation is itself artfully balanced and perfectly suits his theme. There may be disagreements about the thesis; however, I think that the quality of the writing is worthy of any superlatives. Anyone familiar with Michael Palin's travelogues knows that they can't be missed regardless of the destination--Mr. Palin is unfailingly respectful of tradition but never misses an opportunity for a witty remark. So likewise are Mr. De Botton's books. Regardless of his chosen subject, he has earned my trust--I'll read whatever he chooses to print.

Highest Recommendation
30 internautes sur 32 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The Happiness of Loving a Book about Architecture. 27 novembre 2006
Par Cipriano - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Have you ever read a book that was so good that you flip through it trying to find a representative passage that you would like to share with others, but you end up seeing that you are faced with the dilemna of re-writing the whole thing from page one because all of it is so indispensibly rich and worthy of regurgitation?

This is what is happening to me, here at Starbucks, having just finished reading Alain de Botton's The Architecture of Happiness.

Oh, such an amazing book.

Recently, I met a group of friends at [no surpirise] a Starbucks and because I arrived early, I brought my book in and read for a while. Soon they showed up and I set the book aside. My pal picked it up and read the title, flipped through it a bit, and promptly looked at me as though I had three heads, and all of them were Martian!

"What the hell are you reading this for?" he asked.

"I am totally immersed in the topic," I said. And went on to explain....

It's not about architecture, as in, how to build things. It's about the appreciation of the art that surrounds the process of all creative effort, architecture included.

The author discusses the development of so many things, from teacups to chairs to vending machines. Windows, bridges, water faucets, theatres, entire plans of cities, tables, factories, empty fields... the way we think [or don't think] about all of these things. Of course, buildings, from homes to skyscrapers, being perhaps the most prominent aesthetic consideration in our day-to-day field of vision, these get the most attention.

Why do we build as we do?

What is the history, the genesis and evolution of what we have now come to consider as architectural norms?

Architecturally speaking, in what ways have we progressed? In what ways have we regressed? Or, [most intererestingly] have we done both things?

Having defended myself thus, I looked back at my friend as though he had three heads, all of them very architecturally interesting!

I cannot help it. I must offer the following excerpt. Here, de Botton was discussing the topic of beauty in strength, or the "elegance" with which so many of our magnificent structures and machines are constructed...

"It follows from this that the impression of beauty we derive from an architectural work may be proportionally related to the intensity of the forces against which it is pitted. The emotional power of a bridge over a swollen river, for example, is concentrated at the point where the piers meet but resist the waters which rise threateningly around them. We shudder to think of sinking our own feet into such turbulent depths and venerate the bridge's reinforced concrete for the sanguine way it deflects the currents which tyrannise it. Likewise, the heavy stone walls of a lighthouse acquire the character of a forbearing and kindly giant during a spiteful gale which does its best to pant them down, just as in a plane passing through an electrical storm, we can feel something approaching love for the aeronautical engineers who, in quiet offices in Bristol or Toulouse, designed dark grey aluminum wings that could flex through tempests with all the grace of a swan's feathered ones. We feel as safe as we did when we were children being driven home in the early hours by our parents, lying curled up on the backseat under a blanket in our pyjamas, sensing the darkness and cold of the night through the window against which we rested our cheek. There is beauty in that which is stronger than we are." [p.205]

Every page of this book is magnificent like that.

Throughout, the author is critical of the non-critical acceptance of architectural norms. Especially toward the latter sections of the book he continues to remind the reader of the importance of being wary of unquestioningly adopting societal dictates, regarding architecture. He cautions [and I wildly paraphrase] that in order to appreciate architecture as we ought, we need to cultivate and maintain a similar ability to appreciate the beauty of an empty field. "We owe it to the fields," he says, "that our houses will not be inferiors of the virgin land they have replaced. We owe it to the worms and the trees that the buildings we cover them with will stand as promises of the highest and most intelligent kinds of happiness." [p.267].

Because our own culture will tend to dictate the aesthetic style we should adhere to, we ought to be diligent in expanding our horizons beyond that which we have always seen, and always known. We should beware the veneration of the regular. [? My summation].

So much of our sense of artistic appreciation is either innate or injected into our being as a result of our cultural conditioning. But there is this other thing to consider..... that it is possible to train ourselves "to appreciate a beauty that we were not born seeing. And, in the process, we will puncture the simplistic notion, heavily promoted by purveyors of plastic mansions, that what a person currently finds beautiful should be taken as the limit of all that he or she can ever love." [p.261]

To train ourselves to appreciate beauty.

Reading this book is, in itself, a great step in the direction of such an accomplisment.

T.y.L.i.I.
34 internautes sur 37 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Erudite, colorful, delightful! 4 mars 2006
Par Pater Ecstaticus - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
[Notabene: this is a review of the Dutch translation of this book.] I have read only one book by Alain de Botton so far, namely his eminently readable but highly imaginative and evocative 'The Art of Travel'. I was so enamoured by that particular book, that I highly anticipated his 'The Architecture of Happiness', and bought it without any doubts as what to expect (and so should anyone else who loved his 'The Art of Travel, I believe ;-)
This book is - to my eyes - a pure little gem of often seemingly simple and evident (so often a sign of greatness), but at the same time deep insights into the ways in which architecture reflects (and influences) all of our grandest - and at the same time all of our smallest - aspirations, ideas, hopes, wishes and pleasures. Reading 'The Architecture of Happiness' is ever so often (like his 'The Art of Travel') an 'Aha-Erlebnis': to your feelings and experiences, when reading his book, Alain de Botton's insights and observations could only be so, as it were :-)
For example, one of the author's most important observations comes about a quarter on the way, at the end of the second chapter. Forming the basis for the rest of his discourse, is his central statement (in fact his main conclusion) that [NB: following is my own, probably not very accurate translation from the Dutch translation!] "every designed object will give an impression of the psychological and moral standards it upholds", going on to say that "designed objects and architecture essentially tell us about the way of life that would be most appropriate in their vicinity. They tell us about the moods they would like to encourage and strengthen in their users. Except that they keep us warm and that they offer us practical support, they also stimulate us to be a certain kind of people. They speak of certain ideas of happiness." In other words, de Botton stresses the 'values' that buildings propagate, and it is his belief that discussions about 'fitting' architecture should center more around this issue of values (the ways that architecture speaks to us, stimulating and encouraging us), than about any "strictly visual aspects", making the goals of our discussions about what is 'fitting' architecture much clearer.
To understand why we love a certain architectural style more than another, we need to understand the psychology behind taste (which is based on psychological needs), thus de Botton. He furthermore stresses the need for a deeper understanding of the many different 'esthetical virtues' (a direct consequence of those psychological needs), to help us in our discussions about 'fitting' architecture.
Anyhow, in this book the author displays his enormous gift of relating - in colorful, sometimes almost poetic, prose - all kinds of economical, political, social and artistic developments to architecture, connecting them - interlaced with delightful humorous observations here and there - with philosophical thoughts and associations about the ways architecture taps into our values and emotions (what do we 'feel' or 'need' when experiencing specific forms of architecture?), thereby opening up new and delightful insights into the deep relevance and connection of architecture to ALL of us ...
Well, all of this doesn't help any would-be buyer or reader much concerning the actual 'contents' of this book from 'chapter to chapter, paragraph to paragraph', but anyhow, that would only spoil all the fun for any future reader of this delightful book. I would like to say: please, do yourself a favour and buy this book from Alain de Botton, and let him take you on an interesting, wonderful journey, a sort of 'philosophically inspired architectural travelogue', from the comforts of your own home, and enjoy it when you also enjoyed, like I did, his 'The Art of Travel'. Anyhow, you will simply be delighted and surprised!
11 internautes sur 11 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The Accidental Architect 2 avril 2007
Par David Greusel - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Like Tom Wolfe before him (see "From Bauhaus to Our House"), De Botton has produced one of the finest books of architectural theory and criticism by a non-architect. By that I don't mean that "he did all right for an amateur and a dilletante;" rather I mean that De Botton has written one of the best books of architectural criticism in recent memory, period. The fact that he is not an architect or critic only enhances this book's appeal, because it is written in plain language, with lovely illustrative phrases that allow the reader to inhabit his prose in the imagination. This is not "Architecture for Dummies," by any means, but De Botton's argument is accessible and understandable to architects and non-architects alike. This book is richly illustrated to bring home the salient points, and De Botton seems to have traveled enough to speak with authority about the places he writes of. This charming volume should be read and studied by every architect, would-be architect, architecture student, client, and design review board on the planet. Humanity would be well served if it became a standard text.
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