Outdoor Living
Jul 25, 2008

Beautiful buildings according to Alain de Botton

By: Natalie Bahadur

Beautiful buildings according to Alain de Botton Author: Style At Home

Outdoor Living
Jul 25, 2008

Beautiful buildings according to Alain de Botton

By: Natalie Bahadur

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.Dirty House, Shoreditch, London
This is a residential building in east London designed by the young British architect, David Adjaye. It's made of painted black brick and looks tough and urban. However, on the very top of the building, there sits a very elegant rooftop gallery made of glass. The contrast between glass and black brick is seductive, it suggests that we could all balance the masculine and feminine sides of ourselves. The building shows how you can build in very run-down inner city areas and make something good not by denying where you are, but precisely by acknowledging and celebrating it. The building could be called brutally beautiful. We've got one word, beauty, in our vocabulary to talk about architecture, but really, this covers a whole range of different kinds of attraction. Maybe there should be a subcategory of beauty called ‘industrial beauty' to capture what's special about this building.

Queen's Building, Emmanuel College, Cambridge
This is a very fine building designed by the British architect Michael Hopkins and was completed in the mid 1990s. It's an elegant curved stone structure, which sits in its location with ease and grace - it both manages to catch the eye and blends into the historic surroundings of Cambridge. There are often a lot of tussles between supporters of modern architecture and classical enthusiasts - think of the endless debate between those who are pro and against Prince Charles's traditional views - but this building is one that seems to satisfy both camps. It looks classical without falling into any cliched visions of the past, while still retaining a lot of features found in old-fashioned buildings, like symmetry and regularity. A big question in architecture is: can we build today in a way that both satisfies the emotional needs to which old styles cater and yet acknowledges contemporary realities? Can we build in a way that reminds us of the comfort of tradition and yet doesn't turn its back entirely on the world we actually inhabit? Can we learn to translate the best of the past successfully into the language of the present? The lesson of this building is ‘yes'.

Maggie's Centre, Dundee
Maggie's centers are a series of day-care centers sited in the grounds of hospitals in the UK, built for people diagnosed with cancer. The idea behind them is that where you are can so seriously effect how you feel that you might be able better to fight cancer if you have the opportunity to spend time in a beautiful building. The Dundee Maggie's Center was designed by the Californian architect, Frank Gehry, who also designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. The building has a comfortingly domestic feeling, it's a house rather than an institution, and invites its users to curl up with a book on one of its many window ledges, and take in a sublime view over the water. It's always ambitious to claim that architecture can change your life. This building is ample proof that it can.

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Beautiful buildings according to Alain de Botton