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Erudite Dissertation on How Architectural Variety Yields Happiness for Someone,
This review is from: The Architecture of Happiness (Hardcover)
The manifestation of personal happiness through architecture is far more than looking at a building that may be pleasing to your eye, according to erudite author and true Renaissance man Alain de Botton in his finicky but enlightening new book. Taking an approach similar to the one he takes in "The Art of Travel", he brings his idiosyncratic touches to an extensive architectural history tour encompassing all the major styles through his meticulous analysis of representative buildings. The author shows how the most public of arts reflects a sense of shared values among us. In both Roman and Renaissance times, the beauty of buildings came from a classical sense of order epitomized by symmetry and proportion. Sometime in the 18th century, however, de Botton points to a turning point when the consensus broke down into several distinctive styles that represented and ultimately polarized individual tastes. The net result is that each building has a specific message, and the ones we like the best are the ones that most reflect our own values.
The special talent that de Botton brings to his book is how he can take buildings as diverse as the Doge's Palace in Venice to a McDonald's in London and bring out human characteristics through his descriptive prose. Buildings speak to him about the desires that emanate from not only their designers but from their inhabitants as well. In fact, he states that we search for an antidote to the often harsh world we inhabit through our own personal domiciles. The author surmises that many of us who work in modern, glass-encased skyscrapers seek comfort in residences that may be marked by more traditional forms of architecture simply to escape the grind and sterility of the workplace. These contrasts are important to us, and the bottom line is that we cannot live in our current world without embracing the various styles which represent chaos and order. One style simply cannot negate another no matter how much we like one over the other since all of them provide value to somebody.
Particularly resonant to me is one key example that de Botton describes, the Huis ten Bosch theme park and residential district in Sasebo, Japan, which was built to be an exact replica of a Dutch village. The exacting detail and scale of the complex is impressive, and it speaks to a palpable desire by the Japanese populace to display accurately rendered European-style architecture within their borders. However, there is much disagreement over the beauty of such an extravagantly laid out area otherwise disconnected from its original inspiration. As de Botton clearly elucidates, people will disagree on what constitutes the best constructed environment in which to enjoy life as much as what constitutes the best life there is. Even though he can get carried away with his sometimes pedantic imagery, his book is a provocative and well-written read, as much as his treatment of intellectual wanderlust in "The Art of Travel". There is also the added benefit of a clean layout and a number of helpful photographs of the buildings referred to by the author.