Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Architecture of Happiness

With all this renewed interest in design and architecture, I decided to pick up Alain de Botton's The Architecture of Happiness and give it another go. Whereas last time I had to tediously reread pages at a time because I kept seeing strings of words and not useful ideas, this time his messages were as clear as day. He has the rare gift of elucidating vague feelings and notions which we have always perceived in the background, but never fully identified. For the past year or so, I have purposefully shunned design, because after being inundated with exposure to such sites as FFFFound, Cool Hunting, Design*Sponge, to name a few, I was sick of it all. Tired of the modern, sleek, futuristic, sterile, mid-century modern... the whimsical, flowery, DIY, shabby-chic. I felt like the target of a huge marketing scheme masked as the lofty preoccupations of people who have good taste. I didn't see any point to objects beyond the functional and practical anymore. (But sometimes, that is what makes some objects all the more stunning, is it not? My weakness for expensive kitchen knives is an example of this.) I stopped trying to slowly collect affordable pieces of what I considered well-designed artwork and furnishings. And I felt slightly poisoned each time I had to enter into an ugly building or use an ugly object, both of which can't be escaped if you live in America. It was a gray time as I closed off one part of myself. In this extended effort to disregard design, I forgot how it inexplicably good it could make me feel. How it is not vain to want to live in a beautifully constructed home. How you can read so much meaning into a line, curve, shape, or color. How you can surround yourself with things whose designs echo your philosophy. This book woke me up to that, and for that I'm thankful. (However, I will always find it difficult to shield my personal taste from current trends and materialistic temptations, and I admire others who can tune out those other voices.) Architects today indeed have a noble task: to build something that will not only provide adequate shelter, but convey a modern message that resonates with the people who will interact with it.

"What we search for in a work of architecture is not in the end so far from what we search for in a friend. The objects we describe as beautiful are versions of the people we love." (p. 88)

Check out this interview with NPR.

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