The Architecture Of Happiness

Monday 5th June § Leave a comment

Dammit. I wrote a really good review of a lecture that I saw at the Hay Festival by Alain de Botton under the title of "Architecture Of Happiness", and then my computer crashed. Gone forever. Sometimes I hate computers, there so vindictive.

Alain De Botton

My expectations had been quashed after the disappointment of the Will Price lecture but it turned out to be really good. The difference was Alain de Botton was a comfortable public speaker and could present his ideas succinctly and include a bit of humour along the way. He seemed to drift neatly from topic to topic and presented a lecture that highlighted some important issues without being too indepth for my sister.

He started off with a gentle history of neo-classicism and the changes both in society and design that lead up to modernism and he introduced the (obvious) idea that philosophy is at the heart of architecture. He had a nice quote from a guy called

One of the things that he said which I found particularly intriguing was the idea that as well as being able to interpret aspirations and ideologies from a buildings architecture, you can also read fears. He demonstrated this theory with two examples, a Modernist livingroom which contained a breeze-block wall contrasted with an opulent pre-revolutionary French dressing table and elaborate surround. According to his analysis, the modernist room signified a fear of loosing touch with reality and of being isolated, while the overbearingly ornate dressing room displayed a fear of being poor, powerless and of a need to show-off their wealth to justify their noble existence.

He went of to analyse a few generic aesthetic paradigms. Order(repetition/patterns/receding perspective) vs chaos. Contrast between masculine and feminine design within the same building. He rushed through this bit and wasn'treally saying anything extraordinary. Buildings need to be built in cultural and philosophical context etc…

His conclusion was that our sense of aesthetics was directly linked to our own morality, our desires and our fears. We like a building because the idea of it appeals to us. Good architecture sends out subliminal messages that we interpret instinctively and if we agree with these moral and ideological theories, then we will find the building beautiful. We like the buildings that encapsulate the essence of the way that we want to live.

There was also an optimistic footnote where he thought that an increased appreciation of aesthetics within the general public would lead the (big bad) greedy developers to start practicing better design because their just looking to make as much money as possible, so if people are willing to pay for good design… they can get richer.

So what have I learned? Appreciation of beauty can be a curse which leads you to see ugliness everywhere? Don't pretend that your fearless? Developers are evil…

Photo from his website: www.alaindebotton.com

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