June 15, 2015

The Architecture of Happiness: Ideals of Home - Memory

In the last chapter, De Botton explored the communicative powers of objects in that we call a building beautiful when it speaks to us of the values we think worthwhile. Part IV: Ideals of Home asks why we need objects to speak to us. What do they say of our ideals, and why do our ideals change over time?

Part IV: Ideals of Home - Memory

Why do we need objects to remind us of happiness, to provide us with clarity, to teach us about dignity? Does this not make us “inconveniently vulnerable” to our surroundings? De Botton claims that the reason we need this external communication is because we “harbour within us many different selves” and particular aspects of our true self are accessed by the places we are in. Our buildings and the objects we surround ourselves with embody the moods and ideas we respect. We depend on our surroundings to remind us of our ideals and to provide us with a vision of ourselves. We refer to a “home” as a place whose outlook is in “harmony with our own prized internal song”.
In acknowledging this theory, we admit that there is a degree to which our identity is not self-determined. Architects of religious buildings understood this theory. In fact, the principle of this type of architecture is that where we are critically determines what we are able to believe in. We are either nearer or further from God on account of what is written on the walls. 

Works of architecture can express different concepts and ideologies; their values encourage and enforce the aspirations within us. For instance, think of the emotions you experience when walking into a cathedral versus a McDonalds. In both early Christianity and Islam, theologians claimed that buildings had the power to improve us morally and spiritually. A beautiful building became a lesson in righteousness, giving a new seriousness and importance to the profession. For instance, a simply crafted door would remind us of the “virtues of sobriety and of moderation”; the intricate geometries found in mosques provides us with a sermon on the infinite wisdom of God. 

The idea that buildings allow us to access certain values applies to both religious and secular architecture. Perhaps best described by de Botton, “Architecture can arrest transient and timid inclinations, amplify and solidify them, and thereby grant us more permanent access to a range of emotional textures which we might otherwise have experienced only accidentally and occasionally”. 
Home is any place that consistently speaks to us of important truths; we build to keep a record of what matters to us. Most of the earliest and significant works of architecture have been funerary. Think of the massive stone monuments all around the world, dating back 4000+ years and how eloquently they deliver the message of memory. The fear of forgetting and the desire to remember is the reason we construct and decorate buildings: to help us recall the “important but fugitive parts of ourselves”. They are memorials of our identity. The architectural impulse is connected to a longing for communication and commemoration. It is a longing to disclose ourselves to the world through objects and colours. It is the desire to let others know who we are, and in the process, remind ourselves.

All photos are mine, unless they are linked to their respective owners.

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