“The Architecture of Happiness” by Alain De Botton

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The book, The Architecture of Happiness, is a book written on the emotional aspects of buildings by Alain De Botton and I chose to review it as part of this paper due to its suitability to my goal of developing better library facilities. This book tries to develop an argument for the emotional aspect of buildings by drawing from certain examples and real life scenarios. The question of the platonic nature and vagueness of material possessions was a hit topic during the age of the Philosopher in Greece and Rome and the author uses the first few pages of the book to formulate a background for the basis of his book by analyzing behavior from philosophers that supported or proposed the quoting the role that ancient churches played in awing the congregations through their marvelous architectural structure and grandiose decoration in the forms of paintings and sculptures. Through this claim he comes up with a convincing argument for the truth of his suggestions and beliefs over the course of his book. This review aims to evaluate the positions taken in this book and dissect them to come to a conclusion on whether I agree or disagree with these positions. Working on this review has helped me develop links between some of this book’s ideas and real life problems in being able to identify a path for my research for my research project.

The first assertion that I intend to discuss from the book is de Botton’s assertion that the practice of architecture is now a fusion of both art and science and that this has contributed to the shift in focus of architects from aesthetics to functionality in the last century (De Botton, 2008). The influence of analytical sciences and engineering designs to the view of buildings as no longer being simply emblems of elegance but also long lasting models that can serve generation after generation. This fusion, I agree, is a marriage of necessity as the complexity of today’s marketplace calls for near perfect productions. The use of new materials developed in the laboratories has also contributed to the use of scientific principles being adopted as the value of experience has been reduced owing to the introduction of novelties without experienced workers as was the case earlier where analysis of structures was not really necessary save for extraneous circumstances like unknown sub soil conditions. While I agree with the assertion that architecture is now art and science, I disagree that this was ever not the case. I think what happened in earlier ages was that they did not have enough knowledge to successfully conduct complex calculations as we are able to today. This revises the view to one that states that although science has always been around, recent developments in mathematics and the sciences have enabled the focus on buildings to bear fruit and the introduction of these techniques to the design and construction phases has led to the increased effect of science on architecture. Furthermore, I think that the change to a more functional based design approach as opposed to an aesthetics based on points to a maturity of the skill of architecture over many years of practice and now backed by mathematical and economic knowhow. This will be explored in further detail I my case studies and my proposal as I seek to employ these changes myself.

The second and most prominent argument brought forth by the author is that buildings have the ability to evoke feelings in the people that dwell in or interact with them. The author raises the example of religious buildings since the days of old and how they always produced a similar kind of feeling in the congregants (De Botton, 2008). The author attributes this effect to the architectural design of a building. Another example that he uses is the enjoyment that comes from the viewing of masterpieces on tourist visits to certain spots all over the globe. Apart from these two examples, I think that the idea of buildings affecting the moods and feelings of people can also be noticed in the way people can attach a certain emotion to a building especially after significant events have taken place in this places, for example the site of the Bastille in France is till revered as the place where the French public took back power from the monarchical rule. I agree with this assessment but also feel that while buildings have the ability to effect feelings in people is sometimes a result of the events that have taken place in these buildings or places and hence the building take up the role of a reminder. The application of this fact in everyday life is evident in the care that most people attach to the choices regarding how they want to have their places look (Larson, 2018). What I feel to be wrong with this assessment and the book in general is the lack of a mention of the role that the interiors play in the exhibition of the owner’s feelings and the effect on the owner’s feeling sand moods as well. I think that the use of the exterior design alone to signify feelings is quite difficult seeing as these feelings and moods change frequently and since changing the exterior is much more difficult than changing the inside, I find that the interiors are better displays of the owner’s feelings and moods and tis book should be improved to include this so that it is a complete treatise on emotion and buildings.

Another view expressed in the book is that the failure of buildings portends mediocrity on the art of the designer or contractor (De Botton, 2008). I do not agree with this statement in its entirety, I think that the issue of building collapse is a tricky one to make such generalized comments on. The success of a building takes into account too many variables for such a generalized judgement to be made. Among the variables at play in the construction of the building are the soil conditions, the site conditions, history of the land, skill and experience of workers, accuracy of design assumptions, among others. All these variables are possible causes for the failure of a building. In endeavoring to understand the failure of buildings, the process of design and construction ought to be understood filly. The calculations that go into the design of a building include certain factors known as factors of safety that are meant to compensate for the fact that the accuracy of values used may be wrong or the assumptions masse may be way off the mark. In cases where these values are not enough to account for the deficit, failure is almost certain to occur. Matters such as the value of materials and the correspondence of presented strength values of actual ones also play a part in the failure of buildings. Additionally, factors beyond human control such as the underground conditions of the surface also play a role in this failure of buildings. In light of all the above mentioned factors, the conclusion that failure of buildings portends mediocrity of technical players in the industry is an unfair and untrue assessment. That being said, the role that some technical players in the industry play in the collapse of buildings cannot be completely ignored. The role of the technical players in the industry should go beyond the design and supervision to the taking of responsibility in cases off failure to ensure that they undertake projects with utmost care so as to prevent wanton loss of property and lives in future.

The assertion that similarity implies coherence in design is one that I do not particularly agree with. The fact is that the coherence of exterior designs is often due to the prevailing climatic conditions of the area. This cause the houses built within a certain locality to bear the same features such as roof structure designed to allow for free flow of rainwater off the roofing, high verandahs to cater for groundwater flow, basement parking to cater for deep foundation excavation costs and so on. To state that there is coherence in design simply due to these features being alike is being insensitive to the fact that the interior is also a design aspect of the building and this area more often than not usually has the largest differentiations as it is the actual living space of the owner and inhabitants.

While books on architecture and emotion are a dime a dozen, the idea behind the book that we can construct our own happiness resonates most with the views of Polish-American, Daniel Libeskind, architect in an interview with CNN’s Seven Goldberg where the architect is quoted as saying that the very essence of life is architecture. He said, “To be born, to grow, to be, is an architectural experience.” This shows the importance of architecture everyday emotion and drives he point that we can create the feelings we want in a place through architecture.

Overall, the book plays a significant role in the dissemination of information about the emotional aspects of the buildings and the role that architectural design can play in the formulation and maintenance of certain feelings amongst those who work with them, live on them or interact with them in any way. However, this book in linking emotion to buildings falls short of completeness by omitting the role of interior design in the exhibition and influencing of people’s feelings and moods. In my opinion, this book would be a complete book with the addition of a few words on the role that interiors play in shaping and exhibiting the feelings and moods of the people within the house. I think the book will play a significant role in developing a significant portion of the story behind my design project.

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"The Architecture Of Happiness" By Alain De Botton. (2021, Jun 30). Retrieved April 20, 2024 , from

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