About ten years ago, I had thought about writing a book on architecture, psychology, technology, and happiness. I had wanted to write about how we create our homes, offices, and space around us to reflect our state of mind. I wanted to write about how we can make certain changes in the architectural styles of our homes to bring in more happiness and a state of peacefulness.
Turns out Alain de Botton beat me to it. His book The Architecture of Happiness is exactly what I wanted to write about. Except Botton does a fabulous job of expressing his views in the book, which I wouldn’t have been able to do so. This book is like an architecture/ travel/ psychology books all combined in one. Architects will love it for sure!
The basic premise of the book is to reassess our own understanding about our homes and the interiors. What makes a house beautiful? What makes a house ugly? How can we incorporate changes into our homes to bring about the necessary change to keep things positive? Alain de Botton answers all those questions and a whole lot more in his book.
As with his previous books, his book is full of short essays, infused with philosophy, poetry, and words from some of the world’s greatest thinkers. One of the biggest joys for me in this. the book was the visual pictures of the various architecture, designs, and styles of the spaces around us- whether they are a home, a church, a mosque, an office or a factory.
The only downside to this book is that it’s written by a Westerner, with a Western mindset and so most of the focus is on Western architecture (although there is a small chapter on Islamic architecture from Southern Spain and Morocco). So I may still have a chance to write my book on the Pakistani/ Middle Eastern architecture and how they tie in with our cultural mindsets and happiness.
Oh, on a side note, I absolutely loved the book cover too! So much symmetry and geometry, bringing in a sense of order and calm. Love it!
There are six parts in the book, and each of them addresses a certain aspect of architecture.
A. The Significance of Architecture
In this short introductory chapter, the author merely addresses the idea that architecture has an influence on us. If we allow ourselves to be affected by architecture, we can work our way through to creating new spaces and designs that ultimately bring a lasting sense of peace in our lives. Whether the floor is wooden or vinyl, or the walls are covered in paint or wallpaper, the author invites us to open ourselves up to the elements of architecture in our homes.
B. In What Style Shall We Build?
This comprehensive chapter is a brilliantly written short history of architecture. Starting from the Greek Classical architecture to the influent it had on Roman architecture, the author talks about how that particular style had influenced architecture in the West, primarily in Europe. He leads us through the various styles of architecture that evolved in Europe, from Gothic to Medieval to the European influences. He also shares examples of houses, buildings and even furniture to show how styles and designs are influenced and changed. Most importantly, how the changing architecture is often a reflection of the state of the minds of society at the time.
C. Talking Buildings
In this interesting chapter, the author talks about the materials that are used to make a building: stone, concrete, steel, wood, glass, and so on. He purports the idea that these materials talk to us. They evoke feelings in us. Why are we drawn to certain materials more to others? Do we have an affinity for one type over another? Where is that coming from?
It’s not just the architecture, but the styles are also reflected in our furniture. There are lots of queries that get us to think about what makes architecture beautiful, and which buildings speak to us.
D. Ideals of Home
This awesome chapter further takes the reader into why we create our homes the way we do. There are lots of parts to our personalities, and that is often reflected in the ways our homes are designed, complete with furniture and all. (There is an interesting essay on religious architecture where he talks about evoking spirituality through architecture).
E. The Virtues of Buildings
Some things in buildings are deemed beautiful because they follow some basic design concepts, according to the author. These concepts are
a. Order; b. Balance; c. Elegance; d. Coherence; e. Self Knowledge
I won’t go into details of each one of them, but these concepts are explained in detail, with enough visuals to drive home the point the author is making.
F. The Promise of a Field
In the last chapter, the author talks about how we should maintain harmony between man and nature. We shouldn’t just bulldoze mother earth just because we can. We should be mindful of nature and work our way around it. This way we can maintain a balance between man and nature.