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


January 15, 2021


An ugly room can coagulate any loose suspicions as to the incompleteness of life, while a sun-lit one set with honey-coloured limestone tiles can lend support to whatever is most hopeful within us. Belief in the significance of architecture is premised on the notion that we are, for better or for worse, different people in different places – and on the conviction that it is architecture’s task to render vivid to us who we might ideally be.

The Architecture of Happiness, p12

Comment: Last week de Botton introduced the idea of the unseen impact architecture (structure) has on us, not just the way it makes people enter and exit, or proceed through a building, but also the aesthetic impacts as well. This week we well delve deeper into that and talk about the weaknesses of architecture.

Question: On a scale of 1 to 10 – 1 being “low or insignificant”, 10 being “high or significant” – how would you rate architectures impact on our character/integrity as human beings?



So much of what we live goes on inside–
The diaries of grief, the tongue-tied aches
Of unacknowledged love are no less real
For having passed unsaid. What we conceal
Is always more than what we dare confide.
Think of the letters that we write our dead.

Dana Gioia, Interrogations at Noon

But sensitivity to architecture also has more problematic aspects. If one room can alter how we feel, if our happiness can hang on the colour of the walls or the shape of a door, what will happen to us in most of the places we are forced to inhabit? What will we experience in a house with prison-like windows, or stained tiles and plastic curtains?

The Architecture of Happiness, p12

Questions: Answer de Botton’s questions.


It is to prevent the possibility of permanent anguish that we can be led to shut our eyes to most of what is around us, for we are never far from damp stains and cracked ceilings, shattered cities and rusting dockyards. We can’t remain sensitive indefinitely to environments which we don’t have the means to alter for the good…[Like] the…Stoic Philosophers…we may find ourselves arguing that…it doesn’t much matter what buildings look like, what is on the ceiling or how the wall is treated – professions of detachment that stem not so much from an insensitivity to beauty as from a desire to deflect that sadness we would face if we left ourselves open to all of beauty’s many absences.

The Architecture of Happiness, p13

There is no shortage of reasons to be suspicious of the ambitions to create great architecture. Buildings rarely make palpable the efforts that their construction demands. They are coyly silent about the bankruptcies, the delays, the fear and the dust that they impose…Even when we have attained our goals, our buildings have a grievous tendency to fall apart again with precipitate speed. It can be hard to walk into a freshly decorated house without feeling pre-emptively sad at the decay impatiently waiting to begin…The ruins of the Ancient World offer a locking lesson for anyone waiting for builders to finish their work. How proud the householders of Pompeii must have been.

The Architecture of Happiness, p15

While he [Jesus] was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

St Mark’s Gospel

Question: Is beautiful architecture worth all the effort and expense?


In his essay “On Transience” Sigmund Freud recalled a walk he took in the Dolomite Mountains with the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. It was an exquisite summer’s day; the flowers were in bloom and brightly coloured butterflies danced above the meadows. The psychoanalyst was glad to be outdoors (it had been raining all week), but his companion walked with his head bowed, his eyes fixed on the ground, and remained taciturn throughout the excursion. It wasn’t that Rilke was oblivious to the beauty around him; he simply could not overlook how impermanent everything was. In Freud’s words, he was unable to forget ‘that all this beauty was fated to extinction, that it would vanish when winter came, like all human beauty and all the beauty that men have created or may create’. Freud was unsympathetic; for him that capacity to love anything attractive, however fragile it might be, was a hallmark of psychological health. But Rilke’s stance, though inconvenient, helpfully emphasizes how it can be those most in thrall to beauty who will be especially aware and saddened by, its ephemeral character. Such melancholic enthusiasts will see the moth hole beneath the curtain swatch and the ruin beneath the plan. They may at the last moment cancel an appointment with an estate agent, having realized that the house under offer, as well as the city and even civilisation itself, will soon enough be reduced to fragments of shattered brick over which cockroaches will triumphantly crawl. They may prefer to rent a room or live in a barrel out of a reluctance to contemplate the slow disintegration of the objects of their love.

The Architecture of Happiness, pp15-16

Questions: Are you sympathetic to Freud or Rilke? Is the nature of beauty – and therefore beautiful architecture and efforts to make it – to be temporary, and “ephemeral”? Are roaming cockroaches the only future of architecture?

**All content unless otherwise noted from The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton . Content for this discussion compiled by Kirk Irwin