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on 5 April 2015
Reading this one is the company of a sane and thoughtful friend , who provokes the reader to contemplation and to richer understanding of the everyday.
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on 6 January 2015
Excellent book with a unique view about Architecture, a must have for every architect, architetural student or even a wannabe architect. Just great!
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on 13 January 2008
Considering the significance of architecture, the author remarks that beautiful houses falter as guarantors of happiness and can also be accused of failing to improve the characters of those who live in them and proceeds by explaining why this is so. Karl Friedrich Schinkel for example stated that to turn something useful, practical, and functional into something beautiful is the architect's duty. Architecture should thus be the decoration of construction as distinguished from mere building. The architects of the Modernist movement, like all their predecessors, wanted their houses to speak and express emotions. Indeed buildings speak. They speak of democracy or aristocracy, openness or arrogance, welcome or threat, sympathy for the future or a hankering for the past.
Interestingly enough what we search for in a work of architecture is not so far from what we search for in a friend because the objects we describe as beautiful art versions of the people we love. The buildings we admire are those which extol values we think are worthwhile: through their materials, shapes and colours they express qualities such as friendliness, kindness, subtlety, strength and intelligence. As Stendhal wrote, "Beauty is the promise of happiness."
We are vulnerable to what the spaces we inhabit are saying. In a drab hotel room our optimism and sense of purpose are liable to drain away. We look to our buildings to hold us, like a kind of psychological mould, to a helpful vision of ourselves. We need a home in the psychological sense as much as we need a home in the physical sense: to compensate for vulnerability, we need a refuge.
We may feel joy at the architectural perfection we see before us and at the same time melancholy at an awareness of how seldom we are sufficiently blessed to encounter anything of its kind. And sadness is conducive to receptivity: our downhearted moments provide architecture and art with their best openings because it is at such times that our hunger for their ideal qualities is at its height.
Such thoughts and many other are contained in this study of architecture and make for a valuable and interesting read.
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on 30 November 2013
An interesting piece to have in the library. Clever written and a classical piece of architecture easy reading. wanna buy?
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on 21 September 2014
I brought this book as I have a general reader’s interest in architecture and I was interested in Alain de Botton’s spin on the subject, i.e. the relationship between architecture and how we feel. I was also rather taken by the production quality of this book, i.e. good quality thick paper, plenty of photographs of attractive and well known buildings and a typeface that was thoughtfully laid out. The result is handsome book, a pleasure to the eyes as much as to read. Admittedly those details shouldn’t be that important in deciding to buy a book or not but I appreciated to touch of applying architectural concerns to the book itself.

As for de Botton’s take on the subject, the book covers arguments relating to the power of architecture to make us happy, why we cannot agree, or even define, what makes a building beautiful, why our tastes might/do change over time, the virtues of good architecture and ultimately why we owe it to ourselves to properly consider what new proposed developments should be like.

In terms of happiness I think de Botton’s position is similar to that of Bertrand Russell position on Education, i.e. a good education might be wasted on a dull mind, but a bad education is the ruin of anyone. Similarly, de Botton acknowledges that if we are suffering from a poor disposition, architecture is unlikely to have much of an effect; however should we find ourselves in an oppressive environment, or even one that promotes poor psychological states, it will be of little surprise we are in a poor disposition.

Despite the books many virtues I did find part 3 of the book unconvincing. This part focuses on how buildings and objects speak to us. Taking the example of a Barbara Hepworth sculpture refer to by de Botton, One person may look upon it and see a family portrait, another may see some nicely shaped stones sacked. The explanation of why this is the case lies in the difference between the two viewers i.e. their sensitivity to this sculpture and not the sculpture itself. To put it bluntly there is no language of objects, objects do not sign. The problem I see here is that we follow de Botton’s position (i.e. object do sign) then he is arguing for architecture of familiarity (i.e. distinctly twee) as the objects that are most widely to be “understood”/appreciated are those with which we are most familiar. However all the subsequent parts of this book – especially the last part, provide a strong argument in favour of widening our viewpoint and our appreciation of things, to build things that are good/inspiring because we owe it to ourselves to do better than to settle for the offerings put before us by developers more concerned with profit than the benefits of good architecture. Consequently this part if the book does seem inconsistent with the rest.

De Botton also offers an explanation for what we find attractive and for the choices we make when we decide to use particular materials or build in a particular way, and why this may change over time, linking it to our psychological concerns. Again I feel that de Botton’s argument to be somewhat unconvincing, however I can see that de Botton is arguing our psychology informs our tastes and ultimately de Botton is able to develop his thought throughout the rest of this book to shed light on why we don’t agree on what is beautiful anymore, or why there is not one preferred form of architecture and why perhaps we not need to lose any sleep over these problems. The psychological approach de Botton takes does much to make sense of why some sort of consensus can be reached on what is a beautiful building, why it is so hard to build beautiful cities (if we knew how to do so we wouldn’t need heritage sites) and to recognise that architectural failures are as much a result of a poor understanding of psychology as anything else. This was defiantly an interesting and valuable read.
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on 14 August 2011
This is a beautifully written, erudite exploration of architecture in its broadest sense. As a 67 year old architect I wish I had been able to read it 40 years ago!
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on 7 March 2015
Great book but you wont find happiness in it, that requires some work.
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on 12 March 2014
When I was a child we used to have long walks with my parents (both architects) along the streets of my home town and listen to them discuss almost every building, every design choice and ornament we walked pass. Since then I got used to walking the streets looking up at the buildings (this resulted in stepping inside numerous puddles, dogs business and never finding any coins) and I thought that I could really "see" a building.
After reading this book I discovered a whole new way of "looking" at architecture. I discovered that psychology of a building do exist. It's in a way a building speaks to it's surroundings, it's in the way it's windows doors and other elements co-exist.
In this book Alain asks questions like, why we consider some things beautiful. What is elegance. And what buildings say about the times they were build in, and what the don't say about people who live in them.
I think that anyone who deals with aesthetics should give this book a go, even if he doesn't find architecture particularly interesting. I can assure, you will find this book to be very stimulating.

I also looked up some of the authors Alain mentions and found some interesting titles to add to my reading list:
Wilhelm Worringer - "Abstraction and Empathy: A Contribution to the Psychology of Style"
Rudolf Arnheim - "Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye"
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on 14 March 2011
I thoroughly enjoyed Alain de Botton's book on the psychology and philosophy of architecture. As a book I read for pleasure, rather than associated with study, I found that the structure worked very well. The author meanders around some of the questions and issues that have confronted those involved in architecture for centuries and offers views, further questions and sometimes conclusions. What do human beings seek in buildings? What are architectural ideals and how do these change over time? What role does the provenance of the architect or the context of the building play?

Maybe it would have been valuable to have clearer sections on the different purpose of buildings - as homes, as places of worship or as places of work. I would find it particularly interesting to see how a building conceived as a church can later metamorphose into a home - or how, with an increasing blur between workplace and home, a "home office" can be designed. In addition, although the book is sub-titled "The Secret Art of Furnishing Your Life", there is little within about actual furnishings and interior decoration - maybe the subject for a future book?

As with all this author's books, the intelligent and joyful writing elevates you into another sphere of consciousness which has you looking far more closely at the buildings around you the next time you are out and about.
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on 30 November 2006
I have only put this book down to write this review. Love it and love Alain de Botten. Everything he talks about provokes more philosophical questions which he is sure to discuss as you read on.
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