Thursday, October 05, 2006

the tendency not to understand who we are

The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton's latest, is reviewed in the New York Times. M. de Botton argues that if we are attuned to what architecture has to tell us, it can put us in touch with our true selves.

All architecture and design is intensely personal for Mr. de Botton. Buildings have temperaments, vices and virtues. They look upon the world with an almost human face. A pillar holding up a freeway overpass can strike Mr. de Botton’s sensitive eye as a sedentary, cheerful woman, while another seems likes a punctilious, nervous accountant. The letter “f,” in sleek Helvetica type, exudes optimism, while the same letter, in Poliphilus font, seems sleepy, sheepish and pensive.

“In essence, what works of design and architecture talk to us about is the kind of life that would most appropriately unfold within and around them,” Mr. de Botton writes. “They tell us of certain moods that they seek to encourage and sustain in their inhabitants. While keeping us warm and helping us in mechanical ways, they simultaneously hold out an invitation for us to be specific sorts of people.”

Architecture reflects back to human beings their best selves and their highest aspirations. For those who know how to listen and see, teacups and skyscrapers “speak of visions of happiness.”

Photo: Notre-Dame-du-Haut by Le Corbusier