Exploring the Architecture of Happiness

Alain de BottonAesthetic, Art & Creativity, Audio, Conversations, Emotional, Perspectives, The Stuart Davis Show


ur consciousness is inseparable from our environment. Colors, angles, textures, and lights all conspire to sway our moods and shape our experiences; molding our conscious and unconscious minds according to the prevailing social norms and cultural trends of the time. We can feel this every time we walk into a room, a very subtle but noticeable reaction to our surroundings — perhaps a sense of calm and spaciousness, or perhaps creativity and energetic vibrancy, or even anxiety and claustrophobia. Our consciousness naturally expands to fill whatever container it finds itself in, which is why our surroundings have such a powerful effect upon our creativity, our productivity, and our happiness. You are what you see.

“Very often people think that people are like the environments that they choose to build or go to. But it’s not so much that we are like them, it’s more that these things capture our aspirations. So the person that lives in a minimalist New York loft probably isn’t a very calm person — that’s why they need the loft so badly! The person who builds in a very gaudy and expensive way, it’s not so much that this person feels rich — in fact they feel very poor, that’s why they had to go in for all this conspicuous display. So there’s kind of an element of opposites at play whenever you look at people’s tastes.” -Alain de Botton

Architecture, like every other form of art and science, has evolved a great deal over the past several thousand years. Our exterior structures evolve right alongside our interior structures. As humanity grows through increasing of consciousness, care, and complexity, so does our architecture.

Visualize the great architecture of the world:

The iconic teepees of the Plains Indians, painted with two-dimensional scenes of tribal warfare.

The animistic totems of the Northwest, symbolizing the people’s relationship to nature.

The ruined City of the Gods in the basin of Mexico, reflections of heaven carved in stone.

The enormous structures of Egypt, monuments to permanence in a morbidly transient world, gold-capped pyramids to house the eternal ego of Pharaoh.

The majestic columns of Ancient Rome, proud and dignified, supporting order for western civilization for over a thousand years.

The awe-inspiring monasteries, mosques, and temples of the Medieval age, built to both rouse and humble all who enter.

The intricate designs of the European Renaissance, emphasizing beauty, humanism, and the cult of the individual, as science and technology began to tease apart the roles of architect and engineer.

The sleek minimalism of Modern architecture, industrialized efficiency and unadorned utilitarianism, antiseptic steel scraping the residue of myth from the clear blue sky.

The crumpled-paper structures and surreal designs that mark the postmodern return to “wit, ornament, and reference,” rejecting conventional notions of form and function, using bizarre aesthetics and perspective-bending angles to emphasize themes of contextualism, pluralism, irony, and paradox.

These are all so much more than hollow structures or dead artifacts. These buildings are alive with living memory, alive with the perspectives, contexts, and social conditions encoded into their architecture. Every building on this planet carries with it a piece of our collective history, snapshots of our shared interiors as they slowly mature through time, preserved in wood and steel and concrete. The living fossils of social holons.

Our constructions continue to construct us, imprinting our personal and cultural identities in subtle but powerful ways. We define ourselves by our architecture. Every design reflects the individual’s image of society, as well as society’s image of itself — a gateway between interior and exterior, culture and consciousness, past and present. Every style represents a unique forging of ever-deepening form, function, and meaning, balancing masculine and feminine elements in very distinctive ways from building to building, culture to culture, epoch to epoch.

Listen as Alain de Botton and Stuart Davis discuss the many ways architecture affects our moods, minds, and identities, shaping our experiences and bending our will according to the patterns of society. Together they help us recognize all the ways we are influenced by our surroundings, allowing us to deepen our relationship with history and more consciously engage our environment in the present moment.

written by Corey deVos

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Alain de Botton

About Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1969 and now lives in London. He is a writer of essayistic books that have been described as a ‘philosophy of everyday life.’ He’s written on love, travel, architecture and literature. His books have been bestsellers in 30 countries.

Stuart Davis

About Stuart Davis

Stuart Davis is a longtime friend of Integral Life and Ken Wilber, and has acted as guest host for many Integral Life dialogues over the last decade. With fifteen full-length albums to his credit, Stuart has carved out a unique wavelength in the musical spectrum. Taking the topics of God, sex and death, and crafting them into inimitable pop songs with lyrical flair and unforgettable hooks, Stuart also works in television, film, painting, and books.