Architecture of Happiness: Why Ideals Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

The men had returned from the war, Americans were buying homes and putting all their energies in to building a nest for the family filled with all sorts of creature comforts. The female form reflected these comforts: it was round and healthy. On the other hand, the 1960s and 1970s signaled the rampant winds of change; while some people attribute it primarily to the debut of Twiggy, the skinny supermodel of the era other reasons are relevant to examine as well: "popular during the 1960's because of the increasingly popularity of self-expression and women's rights movements during this time that allowed women to shed clothes and bare more body. Being thin allowed them to comfortably wear clothes like the mini-skirt, which maybe at that time stood for some sort of freedom and self-expression. Being thin and shedding weight may have given some women the ability to feel better about themselves. Another reason could have been the onset of the sexual revolution. This thin look has remained an attraction or desire for many women even today" (Cox, 2006). Regardless of what the exact reasons were, one can argue that the changing aesthetic for women revolved around the changing values of society, which then impacted what it considered beautiful or feminine in terms of the female shape.

This shifting viewpoint in turn impacted fashion and we continue to see the influences of it today. For example, the female silhouette of the fifties, one could argue was the more maternal shape and more strongly signified the woman's permanent position in the homestead as mother and caregiver, symbolized by curvy hips and ample breasts; this was a figure that was ready to bear children and nurture them to health and wellness. As time passed and women began to explore their role outside of the home, these values shifted, and thus the corresponding and preferred female shape shifted with them. As women began to explore a life in terms of a career, one could argue that the need for curves diminished and a flatter, more cylindrical and masculine form prevailed.

De Botton's greatest accomplishment is the act of presenting taste as a reaction to one's circumstances, to what one lacks or as one might say, a dissatisfaction with the way things are or with one's immediate surroundings. Creating a Spartan whitewashed loft with a minimalistic design style is both a reaction to the anarchical society one lives in and visual communication to all who enters about one's buried or immediate dissatisfaction with the society of which one is a part of, as a result of one's need for order, safety and consideration. Thus, De Botton is correct in stating that one's design proclivities are a result of lack, but they're also a result of dissatisfaction, one can argue, and an unfulfilled desire. Unfulfilled desires can create a strong tension within one's space, creating a sense of push and pull (Ungson & Wong, 328).

For example, one of the most iconic museums in the city of New York is the Guggenheim museum, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. This museum has a sweeping, pure white cylindrical shape and is planted firmly on the 5th avenue of New York's Upper East Side. As critic Paul Goldberger recalls about the museum, originally, "there really were only two common models for museum design -- the beaux-arts palace and the International Style pavilion -- and Wright managed, in one fell swoop, to explode them both.' Wright's building, continues Goldberger, 'made it socially and culturally acceptable for an architect to design a highly expressive, intensely personal museum. In this sense almost every museum of our time is a child of the Guggenheim'" (, 2012). The Guggenheim's understated yet exhilarating, minimalist, yet grand design made it a pioneer not only in the world of architecture, but in the very geographical location where it stood. it's been dubbed a "fantastic dream ship" and a "prehistoric beast" (Stoller & Goldberg, 4). The Upper East Side of Manhattan is said to have the highest per capita income of any urban area in the nation (citi-habitats). While a great chunk of the neighborhood's housing was built in the
...In fact, one of the other notable and world-famous museums of the area, the Metropolitan museum of art is fashioned in this way, showcasing this exact style, so that it fits in perfectly with the area.

It would've been reasonable to assume that in the building of the Guggenheim, it was expected that it would take on this appearance as well, so that the new museum would fit in with the look and tone of the neighborhood, complimenting the general sense of grandeur. "Development began in the area in the late 1860s when several rows of brownstones were constructed in the Italianate style on 78th, 80th and 81st Streets. By the end of the 1890s, several large elegant mansions had been built on Fifth Avenue, and by the turn of the century, many large fashionable mansions, built primarily in the Beaux-Arts and neo-Renaissance styles, had replaced entire rows of brownstones. The quality of architecture in this district is extraordinary" ( Thus, it's important to realize that in this case there was no lack of elegance or sophistication nor was there a lack of beauty. Rather, from an architectural standpoint, there was a lack of daring, risk and adventure, not to mention a sheer lack of modernism.

The Guggenheim museum thus signifies the actions of Frank Lloyd Wright in reacting to the traditional, classical though however, beautiful architectural stylings of the general neighborhood and sought to use his museum to create a disruption and anomaly in its surrounding environment. The Guggenheim museum does not blend in, the Guggenheim museums asserts it's undeniable and overwhelming presence with a strong sense of grace and charm, sticking out from all the other traditionally sculpted buildings with a sense of overstated and understated style.

The conditions of society can be dense and multi-faceted. "Historians have often noted that the Western world in the late eighteenth century acquired a taste for the natural in all its major art forms. There was new enthusiasm for informal clothing, pastoral poetry, novels about ordinary people and unadorned architecture and interior decoration" (De Botton, 159). However, it's important to keep in mind what De Botton cautions, that one should not interpret this as a transition for inhabitants of the west evolving into more natural beings themselves; rather De Botton describes it as a phenomenon of people adoring the natural elements of art, design and representation because they were felt they were losing these qualities in themselves (159). One can make the same argument about present day society. As society becomes more technologically advanced, one can argue that we begin to crave something simpler -- simpler surroundings, simpler design styles of our interiors and simpler garment styles in many respects. As one New York Times article found, "Simply," "simple" and "simplicity" -- along with like-minded thoughts that include "easy," "honest" and "clear" -- have become marketing buzzwords in response to three related trends: how busy life today seems, the growing complexity of technology and the increasingly complicated economic picture. That has encouraged advertisers to woo consumers with promises to provide solutions that are meant as simple but not simplistic" (Elliott, 2012). It seems to be the case that the more complicated our lives get, the more society craves simplicity around it (Sexton, 2012). Marketing products as simple is not just a strategy that advertisers use. Magazines like Real Simple are enjoying a large amount of profitability as are designers that offer truly streamlined and simple garments and furniture with clean lines and understated patterns. Some say this pattern is a reflection of the fact that members of society are becoming more simpler beings, that these proclivities are a reflection of changes that society are making individually and collectively; that we're attempting to become even more simpler beings and that our accomplishments and developments are pushing us in that direction.

This, however, would be a mistaken interpretation. Rather, the complicated and more intricate that life and society becomes, the more people crave a greater level of simplicity in their lives, but feel they can't achieve it for themselves on their own. Thus, people feel they need these outside sources such as magazines and design items to acquire this sensation and experience.

Thus, after taking all things into consideration, one might say that De Botton's musings and remarks show a remarkable relationship between individuals and the things with which they surround themselves. Things designed by human beings -- from clothes…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

Bennett, B. (2011). it's All About Art Deco. Retrieved from

Boyars, M. Gothic Fantasy: The Films of Tim Burton.


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