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Alain de Botton clearly has an insight into man's need for buildings that are 'repositories of ideals' and for 'our sensitivity to our surroundings' (AJ 27.04.06). It is very likely that his latest book, The Architecture of Happiness, will be a success and will grace the coffee table of many a middle class intellectual.

While it is admirable to draw attention to the often ignored impact of architecture on individuals, de Botton does not address a far more important question: why is architecture of merit more valued (and more recurrent) in some societies than in others?

The production of architecture that is a 'repository of ideals' requires more than a competent and talented architect - it also requires a social awareness that architecture affects us in ways that cannot be quantified; a belief in sustainability over short-term profit; the recognition of timelessness over fashion; and the pursuit of common good over personal gain. Unfortunately these prerequisites are for the most part lost in a socio-economic climate that presents architecture as merely another commodity.

With the exception of individual houses designed for discriminating clients, the construction process is a sea of corporate clients, contractors, consultants and authorities - who contribute to shape the final 'product' and frequently display indifference towards the repository of ideals that defies quantification.

Bob Barlov, Putney

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