This House Believes You Cant Build me Happiness.

Architecture and Mental Wellbeing


Spring, 24 May 2007.

The arguments over the nebulous issue of “Happiness in the Built Environment” were naturally going to be wide ranging. The debate was never going to investigate every nook and cranny but the themes covered were indicative of how happiness is though of now, and how it might be thought of in the future.

The motion, proposed by artist Peter Fink and architect Alex Lifschutz, opposed by architect Kathryn Findlay and engineer Jane Wernick, was slippery enough to start up some fundamental arguments about what can make us happy and how often we can expect that state.

From neuro-science to engineering, from post-war Czechoslovakia to post-9/11 Vauxhall Cross the panel talked over the possibility of designing happiness into and garnering happiness from, our built environment. The conviction with which people spoke on their chosen segment, at the very least, shows that happiness is a very serious issue. There was a general tone of anti-iconic building in the room: Interestingly when asked for the buildings which made them happy the panel chose small self-build structures (an out-house toilet, an orchard shed, the architects flat of his own design). There was agreement from both sides that the built environment should aim to foster personal relationships through planning and master planning, a point brought up by Pooran Desai from the floor. Rab Bennett, also from the floor, emphasised the important role of happiness in sustainability. Towards the end of his speech Lifschutz said, “…even if we can build happiness, we haven’t done yet.” This was not enough to sway the audience who were persuaded by Wenick’s argument that some buildings “make you smile”. The vast majority voted against the motion and for an optimistic happiness agenda.


Supporting – Alex Lifshutz and Peter Fink.
Opposing – Jane Wernick and Kathryn Findlay.

This debate formed part of an ongoing ‘Happiness’ research project due for launch in Sptember 08.

For more information contact

Building Happiness