Happy-clappy architecture: designing for well-being

Saturday 30 October, 10.30am until 12.00pm, Lecture Theatre 2

Philosopher Alain de Botton argues that one of the ‘great, but often unmentioned, causes of both happiness and misery is the quality of our environment’. Paul Finch, chair of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, claims there are many examples of ‘built environments that are conducive to developing and encouraging mental health’. The World Health Organisation says that ‘at last there is a new recognition that the health and well-being of people is perhaps the fundamental purpose of planning’.

The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution has noted that, ‘the nature of the relationship between health and place is poorly understood’. But that doesn’t stop architectural and urban planning pundits proclaiming that a good built environment can make you happy and healthy. Grand Design presenter Kevin McCloud’s development company is called ‘Happiness Architecture Beauty’. Indeed the RIBA’s think tank, Building Futures, wants to ‘ensure knowledge and understanding of “Happiness Science” is higher on the agenda of Architects and Designers’.

So what is the role of architecture in fostering happiness? Is happiness the end goal of design, or is it a happy coincidence that good architecture cheers us up? If we decide that ‘quality of life’ issues matter more than material development, what effect will this have on urban development? Nick Rosen, author of How to Live Off-Grid argues that ‘two billion (people) worldwide are living without mains power, water or phone (and) many of those people are happy as they are’, so should Africa follow the Western model of urbanisation if it will only make them miserable? Should those designing the built environment try to make us happy, or should architects mind their own business?

Listen to session audio:


Alastair Donald
associate director, Future Cities Project; architecture programme manager, British Council

Sarah Gaventa
director, public space, CABE; co-founder, Scarlet Projects; author, Concrete Design and New Public Spaces

Harry Rich
chief executive, Royal Institute of British Architects

Jane Wernick
director, Jane Wernick Associates; editor, Building Happiness: architecture to make you smile

Austin Williams
associate professor in architecture, XJTLU University, Suzhou, China; director, Future Cities Project; convenor, Bookshop Barnies; founding member of New Narratives

Produced by
Austin Williams associate professor in architecture, XJTLU University, Suzhou, China; director, Future Cities Project; convenor, Bookshop Barnies; founding member of New Narratives
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