A quiet intersection in the heart of Paris; the first time. Strangely I don’t recall seeing this the second time and so I’m not even sure where in Paris this structural art piece can be found. Time scrubs our memories of the details it seems. It was a cloudy day though and reading through Alain De Botton’s The Architecture of Happiness (AF) reminded me of the beautiful streets in Paris. Where rows of buildings stretch down long side streets with an order of consistency not found in many places and yet, beautiful at the same time.
The fourth book of Alain de Botton’s I’ve read was the Archtecture of Happiness and truthfully architecture has never been something I’ve looked at with any sort of interest beyond superficial. Don’t get me wrong, traveling to different cities and exploring is perhaps one of my favorite things. To visit all of the cities of the world just to see the side streets and culture is a thrilling thought and of course admiring the buildings and structures that the world is so well known for.
Alain’s book dives deeper into the meanings of these buildings and the choices made at certain points in time that would then translate across the globe. A gothic castle in one part of the world suddenly taking the world by storm and seeing gothic architecture then sweep through various cities until the next form is found. The part that stuck out to me however was the chapter that moved into the home. The home is truly where I feel most comfortable and a safe haven from the often hectic and exciting world outside. A place to charge my batteries and relax. Alain touches on this beautifully:
“Our love of home is in turn an acknowledgement of the degree to which our identity is not self-determined. We need a home in the psychological sense as much as we need one in the physical: to compensate for a vulnerability. We need a regufe to shore up our states of mind, because so much of the world is opposed to our allegiances. We need our rooms to align us to desirable version of ourselves and to keep alive the important evanescent sides of us.” – Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness, p. 107
The introverts of the world would hear this and agree wholeheartedly. Coming home can be one of the most fulfilling parts of the day. To allow the pent up energy to unwind. He goes on to provide another fascinating touch-point of the home:
“Our working routines may be frantic and compromised, dense with meetings, insincere handshakes, small-talk and bureaucracy. We may say things we don’t believe in to win over our colleagues and feel ourselves becoming envious and excited in relation to goals we don’t essentially care for.
But, finally, on our own, looking out of the hall window on the garden and the gathering darkness, we can slowly resume contact with a more authentic self, who was there waiting in the wings for us to end our performance. … The materials around us will speak to us of the highest hopes we have for ourselves. … We can feel inwardly liberated.” – p. 119
If you are like me this can be a normal day. A hectic day that often moves by in a blur and that return to the simplicity of home can be the break needed. Reading these lines brought me right into my small reading den as I look out every morning on a quiet street. Some mornings there is snow collecting on the top of the car parked out front. Other times it is the leaves falling as the wind rushes between the houses. Morning Pages on a quiet morning brings me back to my authentic self and that inward liberation that Alain refers too.
As the book steps out of the home into the various themes of architecture Alain clearly shows a deep fascination to how society has shifted over time and why certain architecture inspires emotion within us. Why when we look at a park or a building we are inspired or why we may feel uninspired by a row of homes that all look the same. Rows of apartment buildings that crowd together and loom over the residents creating a dark and foreboding feeling. It’s a fascinating look through Alain’s eyes and even into the mind of architects over time.
The book closes in on the essence of this idea and the feelings that can be inspired through architecture which I found very profound and a lesson that applies to many different aspects of life. Alain ties the beauty found in architecture to many other aspects in our lives by reflecting on our hurried lives. Our inability to simply sit and appreciate the beauty around us which includes the ideas and influences behind the buildings we look at. He notes that our culture is not one steered toward the idea of reflection and this is a theme seen throughout the literature on mindfulness and Buddhism. Consider these thoughts:
“There has, of course, always been the occasional Westerner who found beauty in rough bits of pottery or welcomed the appearance of a spread of moss. And yet it can be hard to champion such interests within a culture whose preferences run instead towards Palladian villas and Delft porcelain. We can be laughed into silence for attempting to speak in praise of phenomena which we lack the right words to describe. We may censor ourselves before others have the chance to do so. We may not even notice that we have extinguished our own curiosity, just as we may forget we had something to say until we find someone who is willing to hear it.” p. 262
It is an inspiring lesson that we need slow down and reflect on the things that are around us. Do we find inspiration in them and are we willing to speak out about it and share. It is a tenant of creativity to speak out and share and clearly Alain shows his inspiration and love of architecture and is willing to share. Alain recognizes that often it is other forms that inspire and this one truly spoke to me:
“It is books, poems and paintings which give us the confidence to take seriously feelings in ourselves that we might otherwise never have thought to acknowledge.”
This book and these words hopefully inspire you to do the same. Upon reflecting on these thoughts and the passion that Alain’s writing brings to Architecture here are a few thoughts and takeaways overall.
- It may not be architecture that inspires you but you know there is something. Alain inspires through his writing to reflect on what it is and use it as inspiration to create. To share our thoughts and passions in whatever form that takes.
- His look at the home is an interesting thought and worth reflecting on. Are there places within your home that are sanctuaries and if so why? Do they inspire you? As an aside there was a moment in this book where I recall Tidying, Tidying, Tidying… and Marie Kondo’s use of tidying up to find those inner moments of our authentic self. Often times we can let our houses fill up with stuff and slowly interfere with our ability to connect.