The Architecture of Happiness

The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton is another exploration of a facet of life by the capable and successful de Botton. This book is different from Botton’s other books because he is writing about a subject that many other people have written about and one that is outside his professional expertise in philosophy. In Status Anxiety and The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work de Botton writes about general themes that he is pretty much as equipped as anyone else to write about. Here is on other people’s turf.

The book is divided into 6 parts. The Significance of Architecture that meanders around how important architecture is, In What Style Shall we build that discusses changing styles and various revivals, talking buildings the discusses modernism and design, ideals of home that talks about churches, design and has a brief study of Le Corbusier’s failed small housing projects and a brief discussion of actual homes, The Virtues of Buildings that describes various buildings that appealed to de Botton as he travelled about and finally The Promise of a Field that reasserts the importance of architecture and attempts to give a focus the meandering chapters that have come before it.

The wikipedia page on the book, the first link in this review, has some scorn full reviews. They have more than a grain of truth. de Botton has managed to make a career out of writing well, being clever and writing books on general subjects that appeal to people. Here he has made the mistake of taking on a subject that other people have explicitly thought about. Architecture has a long history and it would surely be worth addressing more of it and at least making it clear that he went over the subject before writing his own thesis. If he wanted the book to follow its title then he should surely have given more consideration to what people build for themselves. He gives a serve to the common way that most people build new homes in some knock of style. He doesn’t ask if this does actually make people happy. Who knows, perhaps people have hit on things that work for them.If he is writing about the restraints that finite resources place on what people can build to make themselves happy why not more than a cursory glance at failed works of le Corbusier? Why does he not mention Frank Lloyd Wright one of the most famous and influential architects of the 20th century.

The book isn’t terrible, but it is more or less a clever mans stitched together thoughts on a subject that most of us have opinions about but haven’t really thought through. de Botton has thought them through more than most of us and is amusing an clever writer, but this book is similar to what would happen if Prince Charles decided that he had to write something about architecture.

2.5 / 5


One response to “The Architecture of Happiness

  1. I have also just finished reading this for the second time, and while I enjoyed it a lot, I agree that it doesn’t do what it says on the cover and it lacks depth. The narrative kind of floated over the subject, and much of the time it was like reading the voice-over for a tv series.

    It was also odd that he dealt mostly with residential buildings when architecture is much more concerned with commercial and public buildings.

    Perhaps a good book if you want something clever to say about architecture at your next dinner party.

    (However, Prince Charles would have been much more vitriolic).

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