Discussion Notes for Friday AM Discussion Group | (the A.M.s)


April 23, 2021


To call a work of architecture or design beautiful is to recognize it as a rendition of values critical to our
flourishing, a transubstantiation of our individual ideals in a material medium. p100


If it is true that the buildings and furnishings which we describe as beautiful evoke aspects of happiness, we
might nevertheless ask why we find such evocation to be necessary. It is easy enough to understand why we would want such qualities as dignity and clarity to play a role in our lives; less clear is why we should also need objects around us to speak to us of them. Why should it matter what our environment has to say to us? Why should architects bother to design buildings which communicate specific sentiments and ideas, and why should we be so negatively affected by places which reverberate with what we take to be the wrong allusions? Why are we vulnerable, so inconveniently vulnerable, to what the spaces we inhabit are saying? p106

Question: Let’s answer de Button’s questions.


Our sensitivity to our surroundings my be traced back to a troubling feature of human psychology: to the way
we harbour within us many different selves, not all of which feel equally like ‘us’. So much so that in certain
moods, we can complain of having come adrift from what we judge to be our true selves. Unfortunately, the self we miss at such moments, the elusively authentic, creative and spontaneous side of our character, is not ours to summon at will…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. pp106-107

…to call forth a fully human community.

Friday Arts Project’s missions statement (part)

Questions: De Button seems to put a lot of influence on our physical spaces and things, is this fair? Is it right? Why or why not? He seems to be talking about our true humanity or how we connect with it – what do you think it means to be a complete (or full) human being?


The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

The book of Jeremiah, Jewish Scriptures

What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
me: no, nor woman neither,

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act II-Scene II

“Throw me that shirt, Bobby Lee,” The Misfit said. The shirt came flying at him and landed on his shoulder and he put it on. The grandmother couldn’t name what the shirt reminded her of. “No, lady,” The Misfit said while he was buttoning it up, “I found out the crime don’t matter. You can do one thing or you can do another, kill a man or take a tire off his car, because sooner or later you’re going to forget what it was you don and just be punished for it.”

Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Abraham Lincoln – First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861

Our love of home is in turn an acknowledgement of the degree to which our identity is not self-determined. We need a home in the psychological sense as much as we need one in the physical: to compensate for a
vulnerability. We need a refuge to shore up our states of mind, because so much of the world is opposed to our allegiances. We need our rooms to align us to desirable versions of ourselves and to keep alive the important, evanescent sides of us. p107

Questions: How do these quotes, both political and cultural, comment on what de Button encourages us to consider, how to appeal to our humanity? What does he mean by a “psychological home”? Given the tension both inside and outside ourselves – in our lives and our current moment – how do we live as the “better angels”?

**All content from The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton unless otherwise noted. Compiled by Kirk Irwin