Alain de Botton, a Swiss-British philosopher and author of bestselling books like Essay of love, How Proust can change your life, The Architecture of Happiness, Religion for Atheists, Status anxiety; also wrote for The Independent on Sunday as a columnist between 1998-2000. The subjects in his books deliberate distinct contemporary themes and ideas about human society in the 21st century. The context ranges between religion, art, architecture, love, sex, emotional and psychological impacts on human behaviour and travel. He co-founded The School of life in 2008 based in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Seoul, Antwerp, São Paulo, Tel Aviv, Istanbul and Melbourne focusing on emotional education in the scope of work and relationship issues. Botton inaugurated a project called Living Architecture in 2009 that builds holiday rental homes in the United Kingdom with leading architecture, some of them include Peter Zumthor, MVRDV, JVA, NORD and Michael & Patti Hopkins. This intention for the project was to rent houses to the public to create awareness and appreciation of good contemporary architecture. Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) appointed him as an honorary fellow in gratitude for his services. 

Book in Focus: The Architecture of Happiness by Alain De Botton. - Sheet1
Alian de Botton ©

The book begins with the significance of architecture in a poetic expression about a house being a noble seasoned creature to witness various timelines of its inhabitants and the last occupants left the house, it re-arranges itself by clearing its pipes. The emptiness stands with contains the knowledge of evidence of activities it’s been a witness to providing a physical and psychological sanctuary that guards one’s identity. The author indicates the efforts put forth by the people to build and finish the design of the building consisting of materials, carvings, structure. Further questioning, how colours and textures change the way it generates a response and if it can force an assured outcome of the feedback? Architecture meets the functional demands with inferior aesthetic appeal achieved out of inconsistencies directed by policies and politics in the public realm. De Botton expresses his criticism towards architecture principally beautiful buildings falling short of the ability to re-shape the characters of its inhabitants who stay indifferent to the surroundings. Thus, taking it with passion commences with the idea that everyone is affected by their surroundings. Ludwig Wittgenstein quote in the book speaks volumes for the profession of architecture, “ you think philosophy is difficult but, I tell you, it is nothing compared to the difficulty of being a good architect.”

The book unfolds into an investigation regarding the options in style to building and numerous arguments about the making of buildings beautiful and attractive being respectful to individual tastes even if it contradicts. Thus, architects have the task to contemplate what seems to disappear from the practising scope and into critical private discussions. The author observes that convinced styles like the classical have their own localised versions across various geographical locations though the similarities between them are striking and noticeable however different they seem in aesthetic appeal in a public building. The same isn’t the case for homes with their financial limitations for decoratives and finishes, settling for a general census on material choices resulting in strong architectural local identities. Furthermore, The spectrum of styles created after classical and gothic released unlimited alternatives close to outrageous chaos with the order of things.  Architects focused extensively on functionality over beauty and the claims of the designs being reasonable and logical in a scientific manner, the relationship of modernist architects remain authentic to the romantic idea of how spaces feel acknowledging that strict visual appeals question the basics of what beautiful means.

The book unravels to talk about buildings and their representations with art and material to express. The greatest artists gift the public with their work to touch people with enormous ideas regarding youth, environment, intelligence, humanity and kindness communicated using materials in a peculiar language revealing personalities and resembling power, politics and attributes. These sensitivities to the complex requirements of happiness never specify the exact type of beauty but include visions and versions of it that translate into the ideals of home and spaces one inhabits. The most arresting aspect of homes directs to the fact that we feel vulnerable and need physical and psychological protection by displaying a sense of security and harmony. Ideals changed over time while revivals merged the present with idealistic design philosophy evoking a sense of respect and excitement as buildings declare strength, serenity, poise and grace to their designer and audience. The author investigates the realities of themes and symbols regarding National identity and if a geographical area can declare one or a mix of things sum up to it? The examples of different cities and the world exposition in 1992 reveal that change in ideals made to bring a new order into motion to maintain stable predictability and excite the public.

The bottom opens the idea of the virtues of buildings and the places that have developed into being the most beautiful cities based on the consensus of people to inhabit or holiday. This only backs that even though there seems to be a general way of building the iconic ones seem to occur by mere chance. The author lists down virtues – Order, Balance, Elegance, Coherence and Self-knowledge detailed out with examples, insights and history to express and deliver arguments for the same. The author claims the streets speak of the human intelligence and sacrifice by all works of architecture in a specific order that appeals and helps bring the built environment with a sense of monotony and predictability. The elements require a certain balance to maintain an aesthetic uniform as exemplars of beauty portraying a strong character that enhance space. The coherence of how these buildings play a role with their cultural and geographical settings in forming a monologue in design furthermore, traditional buildings are yet to evolve to reach out to contemporary lifestyle but maintains a spiritual essence of it.

The book The Architecture of Happiness concludes by taking readers on a comprehensive journey about design and its ability to form options regarding happiness and various ideals of it. The policies and people re-develop places to make them more habitable and sustainable in the long run while chasing the aesthetic appeal and requirement for beauty to achieve its peak. The author concludes that we owe it to nature as our homes replace the space it occupies and that buildings would stand the test of time displaying the apical and knowledgeable kind of happiness.

Book in Focus: The Architecture of Happiness by Alain De Botton. - Sheet2
The book cover – The Architecture of Happiness. ©

Subhay Baberwal, a practising architect at Taller-S and a visiting faculty at SJB School of architecture and planning, Bangalore. He is an art and culture enthusiast as well as a certified wildlife Eco-volunteer by the Karnataka Forest Department for activities regarding conservation, census, preservation. Furthermore, he is a poet and currently exploring his voice in architecture writing along with being a ghostwriter for mobile application, fashion collections and bloggers.