The Achitecture of Happiness is a dazzling and generously illustrated journey through the philosophy and psychology of architecture and the indelible connection between our identities and our locations.One of the great but often unmentioned causes of both happiness and misery is the quality of our environment: the kinds of walls, chairs, buildings, and streets that surround us. And yet a concern for architecture is too often described as frivolous, even self-indulgent. Alain de Botton starts from the idea that where we are heavily influences who we can be, and argues that it is architecture's task to stand as an eloquent reminder of our full potential.
Determined to avoid the “two great dogmas of aesthetics”—that there is only one valid visual style, and that all styles are equally acceptable—de Botton explores how particular works of architecture succeed, by offering “more or less adequate responses to our genuine psychological needs.” Loosely adopting a set of criteria, or “virtues”—order, balance, elegance, coherence, and self-knowledge—he delineates the merits of, for instance, Herzog & de Meuron’s 1988 Stone House, in Liguria, whose exposed concrete frame saves rough, mortarless rock from “rustic incoherence.” Conversely, he excoriates the folly of Nagasaki’s massive Huis ten Bosch Dutch Village, a theme park containing a complete replica of The Hague’s royal palace. De Botton is a lively guide, and his eclectic choices of buildings and locations evince his conclusion, that “we should be as unintimidated by architectural mediocrity as we are by unjust laws.”