De Botton’s sore bottom line

Screen shot of the opening of

Screen shot of the opening of “The Ruin of London,” by Alain de Botton.

Alain de Botton, who wrote a rollicking book a while back called The Architecture of Happiness, has produced a video, “The Ruin of London,” expressing his horror at what is happening in the favorite city of the super rich. He says (as has been reported here) that there are 260 towers of 20 stories or more, mostly residential, in the pipeline there.

“We’ve become so embarrassed to talk in plain language,” he says, “of beauty an ugliness, we’ve fallen so in love with the postmodern relativism that we don’t dare to declare that what’s happening to London is a clear desecration.”

Too true. And yet he says it is not too late for London.

Sorry, Alain, it is too late. It may not have been too late two decades ago, but two decades ago and ever since then architects like you have been giving the thumbs up to architecture that, as you say, desecrates London. Your book was a rollercoaster because your expressions of excellent taste followed up inexorably by expressions of abominable taste made the book a fun read but ultimately hypocritical. Just like the architecture you always claimed to like: at war with itself, its clients, and the society it supposedly strives to serve.

You say in the video that “architecture, when it’s going right, should never be fun.” I do not agree. But I think architectural commentary should try to avoid silliness. Almost everything in this video is spot on (except for the examples you use to describe an otherwise intelligent solution). But your history as an architect, as a modernist, knocks all of it into a cocked hat.

Because basically, in your modernist tastes, you have preordained what you now condemn. Sorry, Alain. But you can’t have it both ways. Since you seem in the video to favor putting architects in jail (though not executing them as in Pyongyang) for their sins, while insisting that they are not bad people, I would not want to be the judge or the jury who is charged with deciding your punishment. Get thee (at the very least) to a nunnery.

Or better yet, if you have changed your mind, say so. Get off the rollercoaster. Bring your high-wire act to a conclusion. You will do incalculable good.

Off with our hats to Mary Campbell Gallagher for sending de Botton’s video to TradArch.

Here is my review, in 2006, of The Architecture of Happiness.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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1 Response to De Botton’s sore bottom line

  1. Pingback: Botton’s Architecture of Happiness | Architecture Here and There

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