In his book The Architecture of Happiness (McClelland & Stewart, 2006), author Alain de Botton explores the connection between design and happiness. Are the two inextricably linked? Absolutely, according to Alain. "Beauty has a huge role to play in altering our mood," he says. "When we call a chair or a house beautiful, really what we're saying is that we like the way of life it's suggesting to us. It has an attitude we're attracted to." Agree or disagree, his insights are piercing and thought-provoking. So, according to Alain, what structures embody beauty? When asked to name his favourite buildings, here's what he had to say:
Senate House, Bloomsbury, London
This elegant Portland Stone building was completed by the architect Charles Holden in the 1930s. Holden designed a lot of Underground stations around London, including White City and Arnos Grove. There are hints of art deco in all his buildings, but essentially Holden was a modern architect who had a feeling for the classical tradition and wanted to update it for his own age. Senate House is very austere, and could be faulted for being cold, but I love its serenity. It was built to last for centuries and the attention to detail is amazing - if you look at the handrails, they are pieces of art in themselves. As a library for the University of London, it's a very idealistic building, it's got a very high idea of what scholarship should be about. You really feel it's been designed with the noblest conception of learning in mind. Having used the library for many years, I know what it's like to be weighed down by the boredom and tedium of reading. This building provides anyone who works in it with a little uplift and joy.
Laban Dance Centre, Deptford, London
This is one of the two buildings in the UK designed by the fabulous Swiss duo Herzog and de Meuron (the other is the Tate Modern). The pair started off as cool modernists but recently they've abandoned the austerity of modernism and are taking a more playful route. Laban, a dance conservatoire in southeast London, is an example of the new interest in ornamentation and prettiness. It's a remarkably delicate looking building. The walls are made of translucent glass and are lined with coloured lights, so that it's like looking at a box of sweets through a frosted glass jar. Day or night, the light washes out from the building on to the surrounding grey landscape. Architects like Herzog and de Meuron seem to be rediscovering the idea that buildings should be playful and beautiful, as well as functional and efficient.