The Architecture of Happiness

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It's design award season--I was in the magazine's D.C. office last week to help with the Custom Home Design Awards, and I'll be back again next week for the Residential Architect Design Awards--so it's a good time to ask why we care so much about beauty in architecture. By chance, I came across a book that addresses just that question: "The Architecture of Happiness" by Alain de Botton.

Botton asserts that our buildings reflect the virtues to which we aspire in ourselves. We need fine, orderly, dignified buildings to constantly remind us of, and call us toward, our better selves.

We depend on our surroundings obliquely to embody the moods and ideas we respect and then to remind us of them. We look to our buildings to hold us, like a kind of psychological mould, to a helpful vision of ourselves. We arrange around us material forms which communicate to us what we need--but are at constant risk of forgetting we need--within. We turn to wallpaper, benches, paintings and streets to staunch the disappearance of our true selves.

For those of us who toil at creating and understanding beautiful architecture--and sometimes wonder if it serves more than vanity--it is good to be reminded that there is a higher purpose involved. --Bruce D. Snider



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