Being Derailed by Vinyl and an Unfortunate Bedspread

Alain de Botton is a witty, well honed writer (his books include How Proust Can Change Your Life and The Art of Travel) so settling into an uninterrupted read of his most recent book, The Architecture of Happiness, was something to look forward to. De Botton is not an architect or an art critic per se, so the book is more the musings of a thoughtful mind on buildings, interiors, emotions, comfort, beauty and meaning. His insights are poignant, personal and accessible, and there is no requirement to be conversant with architectural lexicon.

Here’s a sample:

Taking architecture seriously therefore makes some singular and strenuous demands upon us. It requires that we open ourselves to the idea that we are affected by our surroundings even when they are made of vinyl and would be expensive and time-consuming to ameliorate. It means conceding that we are inconveniently vulnerable to the colour of our wallpaper and that our sense of purpose may be derailed by an unfortunate bedspread. At the same time, it means acknowledging that buildings are able to solve no more than a fraction of our dissatisfactions or prevent evil from unfolding under their watch. Architecture, even at its most accomplished, will only ever constitute a small and imperfect (expensive, prone to destruction and morally unreliable), protest against the state of things. More awkwardly still, architecture asks us to imagine that happiness might often have an unostentatious, unheroic character to it, that it might be found in a run of old floorborads or in a wash of morning light over a plaster wall–in undramatic, frangible scenes of beauty that more us because we are aware of the darker backdrop against which they are set.

Fragment of a building by one of my favorite architects, Shigeru Ban

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