Tag Archives: Alain De Botton

Alain De Botton – The Architecture of Happiness

I always enjoy reading Alain De Botton, he always approaches meaty topics in an accessible and humourous way. Since having an architect ex-boyfriend I have always been interested in architecture.  This book deals with key questions such as changing trends in architecture, why are so many buildings ugly and how our emotions react to beautiful or ugly buildings.

De Botton makes the point that many buildings reflect what we want to be or to say about ourselves; for example the Doge´s Palace ceiling in Venice shows the virtues of Meekness, Fidelity and Moderation whereas at the same time Venice was trafficking slaves, ignoring the poor and dissipating her resources.  The London Atheaeum Club has sculptures of classical figures such as Athena, the goddess of craft and wisdom whereas “its members wasted their days slumped in leather armchairs, ….. and neglecting their families, bearing as much resemblance to the contemporaries of Pericles as Piccadilly Circus did to the Acropolis”.

Le Courbusier´s plan for Paris

De Botton expands this point that we want our architecture to reflect the qualities that we lack ourselves.  The modernist architect Le Corbusier is mentioned a great deal, normally in a negative light, as De Botton argues that his work did not really reflect the needs of the people.  For example his houses for factory workers in 1923 in Lége and Pessac were a series of undecorated boxes with bare walls and a lack of rural allusions.  The tenants however wanted things to distract them from the monotony of their lives so therefore added shutters, gardens and picket fences, making the houses the antithesis of what Le Corbusier envisaged.  De Botton says  that architecture should be a response to genuine psychological needs, “we can condemn gnomes while respecting the longings which inspired them”.  Le Corbusier´s Villa Savoye also gets a slagging for its failure to be leak proof as does his highly controversial plan for knocking down the second arrondissement in central Paris and replacing it with “a demented plan” to dynamite this area and replace it with eighteen sixty storey towers.  To be fair Le Corbusier planned this as a response to the horrific conditions and spread of disease in Paris at the time, still I’m glad this didn’t happen.  The argument is if architects are not empathetic to their clients the results will be horrific.

The book ends with a beautiful description of a field that is about to be bulldozed and built upon which actually made me feel quite  sad.  The final point is that if we are going to destroy a beautiful field then the end result should not be inferior to the original, and architects have a moral duty not to build ugly buildings.

So very interesting, the art of travel is still my favourite though.  You can watch the TV series to go with this book on youtube.


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“I will hate you till the day I die” – Alain De Botton – The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

I was very excited about reading this book as I have always loved Alain  De Botton, I was also quite excited about the prospect of the advice he could give about how I could enjoy work more and answer the big questions about it such as what is the point, as it says on the blurb.  Overall though I was a bit disappointed, the title of the book just didn’t seem to match the content.

I was expecting his normal approach of comments about modern-day work juxtaposed with comments from philosophers about the deeper meaning of work, however some of the chapters especially those on cargo ships, rocket science and aviation just seemed to be about those subjects rather than the work actually  involved.

There were aspects that I really enjoyed such as the chapters on biscuit manufacture and entrepreneurship and the sections on how much of our work seems ultimately meaningless. I enjoyed a brief part about Aristotle who argued that there was a basic incompatibility between satisfaction and a paid position, and that financial need placed one on  par with slaves and animals.  This definitely backs up my view that we should pack it in and go on holiday. Apparently this view of work was widely accepted until the Renaissance when there was an emphasis on the glories of work (boo!).  Botton argues that this led to  the unthinking cruelty of the bourgeois assurance that everyone can discover happiness through work (and love), when in fact they almost never do.  He says this is an exception rather than a rule, but is normally presented vice versa and then this gives us feeling of shame for failing to achieve our ambitions.

The aspect that I really didn’t like about the book is that De Botton seems to be rather cruel some of the characters that he spends time with whilst researching the book, he unecessarily points out things such as a man’s smelly house or bad breath.  Then when I was doing a bit or research  I found a review from the New York Times Book Review which said the same but then was very damning of the whole book,  I then found this comment posted to the reviewer from De Botton

“I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude.”  http://www.steamthing.com/2009/06/review-of-alain-de-bottons-pleasures-and-sorrows-of-work.html

I remember reading about this in the media but it does seem a little harsh of De Botton simply for a bad review.

Overall, an interesting book but definitely not one of his best and wont give you much inspiration if you are trying to work out how to give up teaching (or something).  The Art of Travel or any of his others are much better so read that instead.


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