The Architecture of Happiness, a book by Alain de Botton

The Architecture of Happiness, a book by Alain de Botton
Giuseppe Gallo

Giuseppe Gallo

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When they gave me The Architecture and Happiness, I’d just enrolled at university. I knew de Botton as a writer because of some of his novels. It was a pleasant surprise to read about Architecture, described even as something different from what I had in mind. After a few years, I’m happy to talk about it, also because in the meantime de Botton made a series of documentaries based on the book. The complete series is composed of three videos and it is available for free on YouTube.

 

Alain de Botton and architecture

Alain de Botton isn’t only a world-renowned author, he is also a huge fan of architecture. This is proved by his commitment to it, whether through his writings or initiatives, such as The School of Life and Living Architecture.

In 2021, an article published on The School of Life’s website triggered a debate based on the affirmation that most “nice architecture” was built before 1900. The essay criticises the ugliness of today’s world and speaks of beauty as an architectural responsibility.

In line with his view of architecture, de Botton has also built physical architecture with the Living Architecture initiative. Living Architecture’s mission is to create “carefully designed and thought-provoking domestic houses”. Homes designed by studios such as John Pawson, MVRDV and Atelier Peter Zumthor, which the company rents out for holidays.

 

Secular retreat villa, designed by Atelier Peter Zumthor for Living Architecture, South Devon, UK, photo Jack Hobhouse.
Secular retreat villa, designed by Atelier Peter Zumthor for Living Architecture, South Devon, UK, photo Jack Hobhouse.

 

Of course, this isn’t enough to explain de Botton. To learn more about his thoughts on architecture, it is useful to read his book The Architecture of Happiness.

 

Alain de Botton’s The Architecture of Happiness

If this book were an architecture, it would probably be a bridge. Not because a non-architect wrote it, which I think is an added value in this case. But because it facilitates architects to gain a different point of view on their job.

Yet, it’s not a book for architects, but for “non-architects” who want to understand architecture. Between the pages, de Botton reconstructs a history of architecture looked from a different perspective.

The author talks about beauty, elegance, style and perception through the aspirations, disappointments, and misunderstandings that gravitate around architecture.
He writes pleasantly, even though some parts are denser with information. For this reason, it’s one of those books you may enjoy re-reading after a while.

 

Perfect Home: The series based on The Architecture of Happiness

Published in 2006 by Pantheon Books and then translated into several languages, the book attracted favourable attention from architects and non-architects. If you search the internet for The Architecture of Happiness, you’ll find podcasts, audiobooks and a series of 3 documentaries entitled The Perfect Home.

The series based on the book The Architecture of Happiness is a journey through architecture and contemporary dwelling. The author reconstructs his text through interviews and visits to houses and other architecture of different types, ages and contexts.

You can watch the full documentary free on de Botton’s YouTube channel; I’m including the three episodes here for anyone interested.

 

Perfect Home, episode 1

In the first episode, de Botton talks about some problems of contemporary architecture and the relationship between construction and style.

 

Perfect Home, episode 2

During the second episode, he raises his questions on beauty and describes the differences between different approaches to design.

 

Perfect Home, episode 3

With the conclusive episode, the author looks to the future for solutions that can improve our relationship with architecture.

 

Buy the Book online

The Architecture of Happiness is currently published in English by Vintage Books, Find it  in bookstores or online

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