“I wanted to know whether architecture and the environment we build for ourselves can contribute to our happiness. Can it make us smile?”
You may be thinking:
“What kind of quote is that to represent an entire book? Obviously that is the main question behind the written work, it is clearly stated in the title! Who’s the idiot that chose that quote anyway? I bet he’s as ugly as he is dumb.”
Building Happiness is a collection of essays written by people from a vast array of backgrounds who each have varied opinions on the question of architecture’s relationship with happiness. Not all the contributors are architects, which is a rather refreshing choice. Each essay confronts the subject differently and they are all written in very different styles. Some are very conversational and easy to read, but are based on the author’s feelings rather than fact. Others are incredibly academic, and are literally dry enough to put you to sleep (which has happened to me several times).
Regardless of the author, all the essays have a few things in common:
1. They are very rich in ideas
2. They all revolve around projects built in England or by English architects.
3. Each essay is so British your face will hurt.
There is a hilarious portion of the book that details a conversation between several of the contributing authors, in which they speak in a manner that I’ve only ever heard in movies. The piece itself is totally serious and drenched in abstract conversation, but several of the characters are stereotypical British architects/designers who enjoy walking fashionably and discussing the thought process of bricks and their familial relationship with other materials. The type of people who own chickens and milk them regularly.
The important thing to remember is that there are no answers in this book. There is no conclusion that states whether or not architecture can build happiness, and each author is careful to stress that the ideas shared in every essay is simply their own opinion. NOT FACT.
Verdict: Check it out
Perhaps the portion which I find most intriguing is the segments that are labeled “So-and-so’s Happy Place” in which designers and architects share the building or location that makes them happy. If Jane Wernick had bothered to ask me to contribute to her book, there would be no question as to the location of my “Happy Place”:
^^I’ll talk more about that another time…^^
When reading these pieces, you can make your own connections as to what the relationship between architecture and happiness is. Without looking for solid evidence and hard facts that speak to the relationship of architecture and happiness, this book is a decent read. There is no one answer, but rather many factors that are explored in the text.
Plus, this is a great book to read when you turn out the lights and pretend you aren’t home because you ran out of candy! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!