For those who don’t already know, I host a nonfiction bookclub, called True Grace, at a local bookstore. I have varied interests so the subjects and books that I’ve picked so far have been equally diverse. From digital culture to botany. Last week, we ventured into architecture and philosophy with The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton. A beautifully-written, intelligent, and elevated book which is part walking tour of architectural history and part meditation on the nature of beauty and the meaning of shape. I particularly enjoyed the passages where he gave examples of how much we personify objects and symbols – from typeface to furniture.
As for the bookclub, we had about 10 people that night, butterfly sugar cookies, and I raddled off some Advanced Reader copies of new nonfiction titles. We also had a special guest – a local retired architect who I had invited to join in the discussion. He and his firm were responsible for designing many of the important buildings in the city and he, personally, was awarded the American Institute of Architecture’s Lifetime Award for Contribution to Design.
It was wonderful having his expertise present during the meeting since the book, although appreciated by all, was of a subject that was a little tricky to analyze and discuss. Our guest was able to share many insights and answer our questions – so much so, in fact, that I’ve been approached my book club members since then to set up a second group discussion of this topic.
My overall impression is that I enjoyed this book and learning about the different architects and styles and it is definitely something that I will continue to read and study (as you can see by all of the post-its and notes above.) I didn’t, however, agree with everything he said, for example the theory that you can only appreciate the beauty in buildings and windows and doors if you’ve experienced the sobering effect of misery and heartache. I know that I found myself in awe of the ancient temples and forts of India when I was just eight years old, without a failed marriage under my belt. However, in general, the writing stimulated a great deal of thought- I found myself looking at buildings in different, deeper ways – asking myself what emotions architecture is designed to inspire in the viewer. How do the colors, the shapes, the level of ornament make us feel now and make us aspire to later. Is who we are as a community determined by the state of our city planning it is it the other way around? What does the way we chose to live say about who we are as a people? So many things to think about the next time we are commuting through our neighborhoods.