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De Botton turns theory into practice and becomes developer

The king of pop philosophy Alain de Botton is set to test out his amateur architectural theories for real by building a residential development.

After the massive television and newspaper exposure of his latest book, The Architecture of Happiness, the writer is setting up his own property company.

De Botton is putting together a firm called Praxis Developments and is searching for a 2ha plot on which to build a housing scheme.

He plans to use this site as a way of demonstrating his theory that commentators 'often have the right idea' but are powerless in the wake of the housebuilders who still build the majority of homes in the UK.

De Botton told the AJ that he would commission 'four or five practices', picked by competition, to work on the scheme under the jurisdiction of a masterplanner.

'Following my book and TV series, I was challenged by a number of people to stop commenting and start doing something instead,' he said.

'Their criticism hit home - and I have since been exploring how to start a property development company with an explicit mission of using first-rate architects.'

He said he would use the site, which would be inspired by West 8's Borneo Sporenburg low-rise housing scheme in Amsterdam's docklands, as a 'test-bed for certain financial, ecological, aesthetic and other challenges'.

De Botton added that his plot must be within half an hour's journey of London, must already have outline planning permission and must fall within the boundaries of a sympathetic local authority.

De Botton's move to develop has been welcomed by architect James Gorst, who worked with him on the television version of The Architecture of Happiness.

'There is certainly space for the talented amateur in this kind of business,' Gorst said. 'Honestly, Tony Blair is a professional politician and look what a mess he's made of Iraq.

'There is a long tradition of the amateur dilettante doing well in this business,' Gorst continued. 'Most of Georgian Bath and London was built by people like [de Botton].'

by Ed Dorrell

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