“One of the great, but often unmentioned causes of both happiness and misery is the quality of our environment: the kind of walls, chairs, buildings and streets we’re surrounded by,” states Alain de Botton, in his novel The Architecture of Happiness.
Is this guy smoking something he shouldn’t? He isn’t. It’s called philosophy.
Alain de Botton is a TV presenter and an accomplished author, trying to spread the relevance of philosophy in an eloquently poetic manner. His most renowned books include The Art of Travel and Essays on Love.
He urges people to take a philosophical approach in all areas of life, including love, travel, marriage, societal status, media and the most interesting of all, architecture.
While some people may think that he moons uselessly over pages and pages of flowery concepts that can’t be relevant in the real world, I think he’s a pretty smart guy. All his books are excessive food for thought, but this one in particular is quite the interesting read.
The Architecture of Happiness is a novel that passionately preaches about the importance of our environment in regards to our mental state. Yep, it’s some pretty heavy stuff. But funnily enough, once you get into it, it all starts to makes sense.
Alain says that architecture is too often left as something to let the professionals deal with. People are intimidated by the thought of manipulating architecture to what suits them. Design is considered frivolous.
What if beauty has a connection to our wellbeing and ultimate happiness?
In this context, we’re discussing the beauty of architecture and design. He draws an idea from John Ruskin, who stated that buildings aren’t just practical tools for functionality; they also speak to us.
No, not literally, but they reflect back to us what we put into it. They are a mirror that reflects the thought and emotion we put into a structure, projecting it back so we can view it as something tangible. Therefore, buildings are art.
Art can be anything, really. But the purpose of art is to make people experiencing it feel certain things. The argument Alain de Botton makes is that we must make an artwork of our environment so we are always feeling emotions that are healthy for our happiness. So we would literally live in art.
How do different buildings make us feel?
When you walk into a garage, you feel closed in and grimy. Not the ideal place to live. Walking into an openly spaced structure with windows, such as a foyer of an office, you feel positive.
If you find yourself standing in front of a massive skyscraper, you’ll feel small and maybe a little insignificant.
It’s the same with colours. Black and certain blues exude feelings we associate with negativity. On the other hand, lighter colours such as yellow and white remind us of positivity.
That was a crude explanation of the argument Alain de Botton makes in his book. Alongside the main points, he scrutinizes other niche ideas that contribute to his concept as a whole.
This is where I leave you with a thought-provoking quote to summate this entire piece.
“I have nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.” – The trusty Jack Kerouac