Thursday, January 4, 2007

Building Happiness

Having finished de Botton's small book, The Architecture of Happiness, I want to capture some of the ideas, the words he covers in his ruminations on how to design buildings, houses, and other spaces that engender feelings of joy or at least comfort. In a bit of synchronicity re a thread that seems to have asserted itself from the start of this blog, I'll open with a quote from the end of the book: "To design means forcing ourselves to unlearn what we believe we already know, patiently to take apart the mechanisms behind our reflexes and to acknowledge the mystery and stupefying complexity of everyday gestures like switching off a light or turning on a tap."

How mindless we are about such gestures. That indeed is the gist of the book. That we must pay attention to, think about and recognize the importance of place, be it work or home. Which seems like a rather obvious notion, certainly one that's already been taken up by commercial enterprises like Pottery Barn and Bed, Bath & Beyond (so clever the name -- beyond into what?). De Botton tries to investigate the premise more deeply by summarizing architecture's history, especially its aesthetic trends. These were the parts of the book that captured me. He briefly describes movements that have celebrated beauty as occuring in ornately designed buildings filled with busy details versus more recent trends toward simplicity and spareness of line and form.

This is of course occuring in the arts in general, poetry included. The stand-off now between poetry that is filled with narrative and description versus poetry that is about the fragmentation of language fills me with questions as I work with words. I like both. Each ideal of beauty serves me in different ways.

Perhaps this is the confusion of our time and it's best to ricochet between poles, slowing for awhile at various points along the way. Perhaps the image of these being poles at opposite ends of a spectrum is not so useful -- IE abstract VS realistic. The place in between may just be the place of my time, like finding happiness in not-knowing.

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