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


May 7, 2021


The moral equation between beauty and goodness lent to all architecture a new seriousness and importance. In admiring the noble patina of a mature wooden floor, we would – after all – no longer merely be delighting in a piece of interior decoration. We would be taking in a lesson in righteousness.        p118

Question: What is de Button saying here?


Secular architecture may have no clearly defined ideology to defend, no sacred text to quote from no god to worship, but, just like its religious counterpart, it possesses the power to shape those who come within its orbit. The gravity with which religions have at points treated decoration of their surroundings invites us to lend equal significance to the decoration of profane places, for they, too, may offer the better parts of us a home. p106

Profane: not concerned with religion or religious purposes

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Without honouring any gods, a piece of domestic architecture, no less than a mosque or a chapel, can assist us in commemoration or our genuine selves?               p119

Question: Is de Button’s comparison between religious and secular ideas fair? Can human beings be “profane”? Where does the power of “profane” secular places that de Button talks about come from? Can architecture by “non religious”? Can art, therefore be “profane”? Are there no secular gods?


As we write, so we build: to keep a record of what matters to us.               p123

Given the memorial capacities of architecture, it cannot be coincidental that in many of the world’s cultures, the earliest and most significant words have been funerary…The fear of forgetting anything precious can trigger in us the wish to raise a structure, like a paperweight to hold down our memories. We might even follow the example of the Countess of Mount Edgcumbe, who in the late eighteenth century had a thirty-foot-high Neoclassical obelisk erected on a hill on the outskirts of Plymouth, in memory of an unusually sensitive pig called Cupid, whom she did not hesitate to call a true friend. p123-124

The desire to remember unites our reasons for building for the living and for the dead. As we put up tombs, markers and mausoleums to memorialise lost loved ones, so do we construct and decorate buildings to help us recall the important but fugitive parts of ourselves. The pictures and chairs in our homes are the equivalents – scaled for our own day, attuned to the demands of living – of our giant burial mounds of Paleolithic times. Our domestic fittings, too, are memorials to identity.               p124

We may occasionally and guiltily experience the desire to create a home as a wish to vaunt ourselves in front of others. But only if the truest parts of ourselves were egomaniacal would the urge to build be dominated by the need to boast. Instead, at its most genuine, the architectural impulse seems connected to a longing for communication and commemoration, a longing to declare ourselves to the world through a register other than words, through the language of objects, colours and bricks: an ambition to let others know who we are – and, in the process, to remind ourselves.            p126

Questions: Does de Button seem to argue memory is important to secular belief of the world? He seems to put a lot of power in the things that are made by human hands – including art and architecture? How important is memory to art? To human life and thriving?

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