This stimulating and witty interpretation of a proposal that ‘objects we describe as beautiful are versions of the people we love’ is prompted by Alain de Botton’s belief that ‘it is architecture’s task to render vivid to us who we might ideally be’. He thus asks, ‘if our happiness can hang on the colour of the walls or the shape of a door, what will happen to us in most of the places we are forced to look at and inhabit … [like] a house with prison-like windows, stained carpet tiles and plastic curtains?’
However, the problem inherent in his claim that ‘Political and ethical ideas can be written into window frames and door handles’ was treated more coherently by Roger Scruton, in The Aesthetics of Architecture (1979), and also featured in Geoffrey Scott’s The Architecture of Humanism (1914), and Léon Krier’s Architecture: Choice or Fate (1998). But none of these and other similar works is referred to by de Botton, who wishes to resemble Puck, sprung from nowhere, a sprite whom it is difficult to follow, still more catch up with, as he darts backwards and forwards in time from the Middle Ages to the present day in six chapters with broad and rather unhelpful titles such as ‘The Power of Architecture’ and ‘The Promises of a Field’.
The many illustrations are not numbered, nor is it clear where, if at all, they are referred to in the text. One such, showing Hermann Göring talking to the French Ambassador in a room hung with a Cranach, has a caption pointing to ‘the moral ineffectiveness of a beautiful house’.