The Architecture of Happiness

by Alain De Botton

Paperback, 2014



Call number



Penguin (2014), Edition: 01, 280 pages


The Architecture of Happiness is a dazzling journey through the philosophy and psychology of architecture and the indelible connection between our identities and our locations. One of the great but often unmentioned causes of both happiness and misery is the quality of our environment: the kinds of walls, chairs, buildings, and streets that surround us. And yet, a concern for architecture is too often described as frivolous, even self-indulgent. Alain de Botton 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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jcbrunner
Having bought the book on the strength of a witty interview, I was disappointed by this meandering work. The title poses an interesting question. How can buildings help us feeling better? De Botton's short, depressing and unhelpful answer seems to be: They can't.

Curiously, De Botton sides with Le
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Corbusier when the famous Swiss architect is repeatedly implored by his clients to fix a leaking roof. The beauty of the building, the Villa Savoye, is more important to both De Botton and Le Corbusier than the well-being of its inhabitants. What use is a beautiful building if it hurts its inhabitants? The neglect of a building's function may be typical for an uncaring philosopher but does not help answering the title question.

Even if De Botton's criteria (order, balance, elegance, coherence, self-knowledge) are only aesthetic, his analysis remains flawed by a muddled understanding of the terms. He contrasts "order" with "complexity" whereas the correct pairing is order-chaos and simplicity-complexity. His false pairing leads him to strange, arbitrary conclusions, which a deeper knowledge of architectural history might have prevented. The lack of a bibliography makes an evaluation of his architectural understanding difficult.

While De Botton finally rejects Le Corbusier's totalitarian visions, he fails to understand the beauty of democratic building. He rants against the architectural ignorance of the home-buying middle classes and yearns for aristocracy and kings - as if autocratic rulers (or CEOs) somehow had better taste.

The book fails to provide readers with tools to help assess the question how architecture can increase happiness. The only redeeming aspect of the book are its wonderful black and white pictures.
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LibraryThing member george.d.ross
I love Alain de Botton! But I simply couldn't read this one. Maybe it's because I know too much about architecture, but all his observations this time seemed really banal to me. I'm sorry, Alain!
LibraryThing member ParadigmTree
Why do we like some buildings and loathe others? How much impact does architecture have on our mental and physical well being? Turns out we are surprisingly vulnerable to the aesthetics of our surroundings. The author explores this less tangible aspect of the built environment and provides an
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excellent dicussion on the nature of aesthetics.
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LibraryThing member colinsky
I bought this book because I'm interested in why we like or don't like buildings. I was generally happy with what I found -- a mixture of clear and interesting prose and many reasonably good black and white photographs to support the author's arguments about what we like in architecture. I
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appreciated particularly the argument that these kinds of values should be higher priorities for architects than the promulgation of some architectural theory. Auteurism in architecture may grab media attention, it may even bring dollars to a city, but it doesn't make for places people like. The other part of the book that very much appealed to me was the discussion of personification. By strange coincidence, I'd just heard a talk given on an odd kind of synaesthesia in which a person had strong personifications for letters of the alphabet (B is a nasty character who doesn't get along with his friends, etc.) So after hearing that talk, to open a book that had a photograph of an array of faucets and a caption saying "which one of these would you like as a friend?" I was hooked and finished the book quickly. I found the latter part of the book became a bit more abstract and unconvincing and my attention drifted a bit.
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LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
This is the third of De Botton's books that I have read. I enjoyed 'The Consolations of Philosophy', as it taught me a lot about the history of philosophy and about some of its prime movers. De Botton kept himself out of the text as much as possible, and let the philosophers' words shine on their
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Then I had my first real meeting with Proust, in 'How Proust Can Change Your Life'. Again, it was not De Botton's writing that most impressed me, although it was good in its own way. De Botton proved a most capable gatekeeper to a writing talent I hope to enjoy some other time, but who was extremely able to express his ideas himself.

Finally, I have experienced what De Botton can do when he writes something truly his own, about people who certainly communicate a lot to the world, but who generally do it nonverbally - architects.

De Botton examines what it is to build, and to build beautifully. He looks to philosophy to provide answers to the questions that drive architectural fashions, and offers some insights into why beautiful buildings are beautiful and ugly ones so overwhelmingly ugly. He writes lucidly and with a personal touch that makes his essay seem almost conversational at times.

This is without a doubt the best book I have read about architecture; I learnt a lot that I am sure soon to forget, so this book will keep its place on my shelf for years and years, always ready to remind me of the secrets of the four walls around me.
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LibraryThing member Ellouise
We are influenced in different ways. Architecture & design of space can change our view of ourselves & our world.
LibraryThing member vesuvian
Alain de Botton is a cute, smart guy with a nice family, well-lived-in house in London, and (apparently) a nice family. His earlier books were well received, although I haven't yet finished reading Proust (he wrote "How Proust Can Change Your Life") and can't personally testify as to the results.
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In this book, he does an excellent job of dissecting spaces, then presenting historic examples side-by-side with modern examples. Unlike most books, the illustrations actually fit with the text. Bravo, Alain! Some co-workers didn't finish it, and if I couldn't get through "Proust", I can't blame them for this short but thick philosophical work. It requires real effort.
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LibraryThing member janemarieprice
This short book covers the theory of the insubstantial things which make architecture beautiful. It is somewhat interesting but tends to repeat itself and is not so useful for architects.
LibraryThing member petrojoh
A beautifully philosophical perspective of architecture. The ideas are compelling, whether or not you agree with them. You will look at buildings differently than before.
LibraryThing member Cecilturtle
In this comprehensive and heavily illustrated essay, de Botton retraces the history of architecture, the motivations and standards of beauty that have ruled our buildings and the human aspects that make a building appealing or not. It is a superficial account which nonetheless covers much ground.
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Written simply, it is fun and easy with many concrete examples. Not for an architecture student, but an agreeable introduction for the layman. I have certainly started giving more careful attention to my environment and its influences.
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LibraryThing member veevoxvoom
Summary: Alain de Botton explores the effect of architecture on the human condition: how it inspires us, how it enforces our ideals of beauty, and how it reflects our culture and our desires.

Review: My sister, who is starting her studies in architecture at the University of Toronto, bought this
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book to prepare herself. One day I had nothing to read, so she lent me her copy. It’s a slim book but it packs a lot of ideas, and it doesn’t hurt that de Botton is an elegiac, poetic writer, capable of squeezing poignancy even into the most mundane sentences. I mean it: this is a man who could write about eating toast and I would lap it all up.

His suggestions about architecture are interesting. I don’t know much about the subject so I can’t offer an educated opinion, but I thought he did a good job of exploring the connection between architecture and human wants and fears. It’s also good that there are photos to accompany his writing so that I can see what he means — some of the pictures took my breath away.

However, one niggling feeling ate at me the entire time I was reading. De Botton comes across as obviously a white man. I have nothing against white men writing books, but when he’s discussing the universals of architecture or the human condition but he really means Western architecture and society, it bothers me. He talks about how humans all want democracy and classical ideals and things like that, which is only a limited view of humanity. Yes, he mentions briefly Japanese architecture and culture, but not much and a bit on Japan is hardly encompassing all non-Western cultures (as an Asian I get annoyed when Japan is always presented to the West as the model Asian nation, but that's another rant entirely). I don’t mind that he focuses on Western culture. I just wish he would clarify that more often rather than assume that the West is default. Also, he tends to revert to male as default when talking about people whose gender are unknown. This is a pet peeve. Others might not mind it but it is like nails on a chalkboard for me.

Conclusion: A pretty book about a subject I was eager to learn more about. Ticks off a few of my race and gender buttons, but overall a good read.
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LibraryThing member ariadna73
I was expecting something else about this book. I thought that it will show me more concepts about ho whappiness is understood, but it was another kind of essay.

In this book, De Botton shows us how he thinks the constructions or buildings that surrounds us can influence our animic state. This is
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interesting, but sometimes I felt a little tired reading this author.
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LibraryThing member rochiel13
a definitive reading for architecture student / enthusiast. detailed perspective about architecture around us, with witty humour and philosophical language
LibraryThing member Brendan.H
Seemed incredibly devoted to a touchy-feely, almost pop psychology, view of architecture and architectural history. I got the feeling I'd really hate de Botton if I spent any time with him. Still, for a someone who doesn't know anything about architecture, this was an interesting and useful read.
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I'm sure there are better introductory books on architecture, but I'm not asking for my time back or anything.
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LibraryThing member mattparfitt
I enjoyed reading the book: de Botton is an insightful and skilled writer. His style tends to be somewhat uniform: articulate, careful, always bordering on fussiness and pretentiousness. His range of reference is truly impressive. I hoped to learn more about architecture from this book, but it's
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more a meditation on aesthetic principles than a study of architecture as such. A good book, but not a really memorable one.
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LibraryThing member chellerystick
While I can't say that architecture is *always* meant to balance the current terrors of society, I do think de Botton is right that this is a large part of art movements. He also gives a bit of a primer on the basic art principles (balance, coherence) that are applied to architecture, and he gives
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many great examples with actually useful pictures. I think "close readings" of a few buildings and some more examples of the forces that motivate cross-cultural architecture would be all I would add to this book. It is very lovingly written and the language is a pleasure.
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LibraryThing member LaPhenix
A cool look at the evolution of architecture.
LibraryThing member TheBookJunky
At first I thought the nouns should be reversed, ie, the Happiness of Architecture. But I began to realise that the book isn't so much about architecture as it is about people and how they express themselves with architecture, as they do with other art forms. He is using architecture to explain
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humans. He anthropomorphises archictecture. Architecture becomes a frozen emotion. He says that “In essence, what works of design and architecture talk to us about is the kind of life that would most appropriately unfold within and around them” Design is used to show what we want to be, or what we want our values to be. It springs from “…the need for idealised forms to stand as a defence against all that remains corrupt and unimaginative within us.” The human psyche naturally seeks balance and ‘beautiful’ architecture provides that, a psychological balance and therefore mental well being and happiness. “In literature, too,” he says, “we admire prose in which a small and astutely arranged set of words has been constructed to carry a large consignment of ideas.” De Botton’s book is just that: a small and astutely arranged set of words that carries a large consignment of ideas. Which brought me to happiness.
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LibraryThing member SashaM
I enjoyed this book but it wasn't what I was expecting when I picked it up (to be honest I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting). Still, the theories about why some architecture works or doesn't, the idea that we look for in art or architecture what we lack in ourselves or our society did get
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me thinking.
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LibraryThing member brakketh
Surprised by how much I enjoyed these musings on architecture and what it can tell us about societies.
LibraryThing member ASKelmore
Best for: People not that familiar with architecture who are interested in learning about it in a philosophical way.

In a nutshell: Author de Botton takes the reader through a lovely journey exploring how the buildings we inhabit can help fill missing pieces in our lives, and impact how we feel.

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that sticks with me: “The buildings we admire are ultimately those which, in a variety of ways, extol values we think worthwhile.” (p 98)

Why I chose it: I bought this long ago. It’s survived multiple book purges and moves, but I finally opened it up because I’m participating in a book challenge this summer, and one of the categories is a book about art or an artist. To avoid spending all the money, I’m checking my to read pile first, and came across this gem.

Review: I don’t know much (anything?) about architecture. I know that craftsman homes are popular in my current city, and that ranch-style homes were popular where I grew up. I’ve been learning a bit reading the amazing blog McMansion Hell (which I only came across recently thanks to Zillow going after the writer, then having to back off), but I’ve not been able to put my finger on why certain styles depress the hell of me (most one-story homes; any office park a la Office Space), while others bring me joy (pretty much anything in Paris).

This book has helped me to understand a bit better where my tastes lay and why. I am certain that there are architects who would disagree, but much of Mr. de Botton’s premise is that not only does style reflect the available resources and the elements that must be kept out (a house in Phoenix is probably going to look different from a house in Finland), but also the lives we are living. The greatest example of this is when he argues that people who seek out modernist homes are looking for some order in a chaotic life outside the home, whereas those dramatic palaces built in the 1600s weren’t just a fancy show of money, but also an attempt to create beauty in a time that was pretty dangerous (I mean, think about the diseases running rampant through cities).

I feel that I learned about architecture and beauty, but I also got to enjoy some gorgeous writing. The language Mr. de Botton uses throughout is lovely, a perfect accompaniment to the many examples of different styles of home and building. It can be a bit dense at time, but I think it is worth it, especially for those interested in a more philosophical examination of our built environment.

The only reason this is a 4-star book for me is because there are so many lovely pictures in this edition but they are all in black and white, which really takes away from my ability to see the detail and understand more of why they might be examples of architecture that elevates or depresses us. If not for that, this would be a 5-star read.
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LibraryThing member PattyLee
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member MarkLacy
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member annbury
This book asks a question that has interested me for a long time -- what makes some buildings beautiful? Unfortunately, the author does not provide much in the way of answers. He does discuss some interesting ideas, notably the fact that ideas of beauty in architecture change over time. But he
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passes over this to go on to more timeless issues -- balance, elegance, etc. It all sounds very nice -- Mr. De Botton's prose in unfailingly elegant, sometimes irritatingly so. It just doesn't add up to much.
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LibraryThing member mykl-s
Much as I enjoyed reading Botton's Consolations of Philosophy, I cannot recall enough about this book to review now, after a few years.


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7.8 inches


0241970059 / 9780241970058
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