“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”

In Auckland we are facing a housing shortage and in Christchurch there is a race to build as quickly, cheaply and as risk adversely as possible. Beautiful low-cost housing is difficult to achieve – aesthetic detail often involves cost. In New Zealand the standard developer solution is to put up a cheap brick and concrete tile pattern with no thought to external spaces, orientation, sustainability or aesthetics – but how does this impact on the lives of those within? In Alain de Bottons ‘Architecture of Happiness’ he describes how….

“One of the great, but often unmentioned, causes of both happiness and misery is the quality of our environment: the kind of walls, chairs, buildings and streets we’re surrounded by. And yet a concern for architecture and design is too often described as frivolous, even self-indulgent. The Architecture of Happiness starts from the idea that where we are heavily influences who we can be – and argues that it is architecture’s task to stand as an eloquent reminder of our full potential.”

It is an interesting point – but it can also go further than just the aesthetics. As we have experienced our own form of ‘low cost’ building, the delight of not only the small details that we have added, the outdoor space relationships, but also the warmth of the sunshine that heats our home for free are all part of the sense of well-being that it promotes. It is frustrating to see so many new houses go up that rely on costly running of heat pumps and dehumidifiers to solve bad design decisions.  Simple thought to the well-being of its occupants by careful planning of orientation, openings and materials, need not add cost but can add to the health of its occupants and contribute to the future low-cost running of the home on an ongoing basis. It is possible to achieve – even on a budget – as many great building developers around the world are starting to illustrate.

The following project is a low-cost housing project in Denmark that shows one example of how considering external environments and materials have been at the forefront of some of the decision-making. I use it as an example that is less to do with the ‘style’ of the building (risk adverse developers in NZ would be horrified at the idea of ‘no eaves’ and ‘decks over living spaces’!) and more to do with the ‘attention’ to detail that brings delight within our everyday environments.


Seier + Seier – creative commons – Flickr.


“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” – Winston Churchill


4 thoughts on ““We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”

  1. I love Botton’s view. On my blog I’ve occasionally explored variations on this theme. My personal extension of his idea is that a building’s aesthetics, including its potential to influence who we are, is a consequence of all that goes into the design of a built environment, e.g., its details, siting, budget, etc.. Nice post.

  2. Churchill was always good for some wisdom. Stunning esthetic in the pictures. Wildflowers don’t hurt, either.

    Our architecture cradles our souls, along with the nature around us. And hopefully the two are sympatico. Ceilings need to be tall enough to uplift us, low enough to embrace. And so on. I have always marvelled at how builders and designers miss what seems obvious. Materials that have no sense of one-ness. We feel good when there is flow and connectedness around us. And beauty among us. Everyone deserves to live with this–like this. Another great post. Love reading about your work and creative point-of-view.

  3. Thankyou! I can see my Border T. racing through those flowers in the hunt of something… That’s a wonderful description of how Architecture can be, and how it can really impact on how we experience our surroundings – I so agree!


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