What does a beautiful building look like?

More from Botton’s Architecture of Happiness. The first chapter establishes the fact that good architecture won’t necessarily make us happier, which was unexpected but is true. Spousal tension, death and destruction happen in beautiful homes as much as in shacks, he points out. But the chapter ends with this:

    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 . . .

    But if we accept the legitimacy of the subject nevertheless, then a new and contentious series of questions at once opens up. We have to confront the vexed point on which so much of the history of architecture pivots. We have to ask what exactly a beautiful building might look like.

The book is quite a fun read, well-written so far (with one or two paragraphical exceptions), and I’m very eager to see where it goes. If you couldn’t tell.

Photo from Wikipedia


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at pcNielsen.com.

3 Responses to What does a beautiful building look like?

  1. Tim J. says:

    “I just love the Giant cutscenes because the world around link is so calm and peaceful, then a huge creature steps forth and sings.
    I’ll never forget how intimidating yet friendly those ‘roars’ sound like.”

    That’s really well said.

    It’s interesting for me to note how much better our family feels and how our mood is lifted just by a tidy house. Our surroundings do effect our outlook.

    I don’t believe we should be inordinately attached to “things”, but if one is going to make a chair, or a pot or something, there is really no excuse for doing it in a shoddy or cheap way that screams “not worth the trouble”.

    It occurs to me that we have the same problem with our family homes that we have with restaurant meals… way too much emphasis on quantity over quality. Our homes are bigger (on average) than ever, but they are generic, uninspiring, not well proportioned or or homey.

    Our house has that problem. It’s plenty big, but has no soul. It looks like it was designed by a committee of chartered accountants. It would take years to do over in a way that is really pleasing. We can’t decide whether we are up to it, or whether we should just start over from scratch.

  2. Tim J. says:

    Wow. That wasn’t the quote I was looking for. I was remarking on this bit;

    “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.”

  3. pNielsen says:

    Tough call sometimes, remodeling or building new. I worked remodeling houses for a few years here in Siloam with a local company, and we did a couple that probably should have been torn down.

    As much as I’m also aware of how cleanliness and organization do lift our spirits, I’m surprised to think at this moment about how much both my wife and I sometimes let things slide. Making the bed, doing the dishes, sweeping the floor. Easy tasks really that only take a couple mintues.

    We’re probably distracted by things like the internet!

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