A new exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) explores the quantifying and ranking of happiness and probes its impact on architecture.
The Architecture of Happiness was a trite book published in the mid-2000s and mercifully forgotten. Our Happy Life: Architecture and Well-Being in the Age of Emotional Capitalism, a new exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) in Montreal, isn’t nearly as snappily titled, but as an enterprise, it is far more probing and curious. Curated by Francesco Garutti, the show explores how, after the 2008 financial crash, the “happiness industry”—comprising government initiatives, economic indices, and city rankings—hijacked virtually every facet of contemporary life.
Metropolis’s Samuel Medina spoke to Garutti about happiness as a social project, the “cold intimacy” of Instagram, and architecture’s new spaces of meaning.
SAMUEL MEDINA: A curator once told me that he had read every popular book about happiness there is. He said that it helps him do his job—communicating with the public—better. What sparked your interest in the subject?
FRANCESCO GARUTTI: You can go as far back as Greek philosophy [laughs]. I had a chat with the artist Simon Fujiwara—I was very intrigued by his The Happy Museum (2016) at the Berlin Biennale. The discussion was coming from his artistic practice; we were not talking about architecture at all. But afterward I was just bumping into this word—the idea—everywhere and in every context. I began finding “happiness” in literature and in journalism, for example, these city rankings and Gallup polls. What is happiness? It is a set of values. It is a political agenda. I thought to myself, “Let’s pose to architects some questions of happiness.”
SM: Happiness has become a metric—“a set of values,” as you say—with transnational currency. It now enjoys the imprimatur of political science and sociological research. When did that happen?
FG: The exhibition has a precise chronological moment—the ten years between 2008 and 2018. It is true that this weird entity of “happiness,” as we are defining it, was happening in the early ’90s. That is the moment it began to be marketed in a new way, as a set of positive emotions to be used as an asset. Will Davies’s book The Happiness Industry describes the story very well. In 2008 you have the economic crisis. You have figures like Richard Layard, considered one of the main figures in the U.K. behind the World Happiness Reports. Then there was the Stiglitz Commission’s report, which suggested a political strategy to go beyond GDP. At the same time you have the release of the first iPhone, which makes data collection very easy but also allows us to track our own lives. These are just a few points, but the exhibition reads this moment very critically.
We then arrive [in the timeline] at something that really impressed me. There is the introduction of two key documents produced by Gallup: the World Happiness Report and Global Emotions Report. [Ed. note: Both are published annually.] I actually went to Gallup as they were publishing their report on happiness. We produced a short film—almost like a documentary—about making Gallup’s World Poll survey, which is being shown in a gallery. To me the film and the happiness [indices] are evidence of how “happiness” and “emotions” are now considered super important at the political level.
Read on HERE >>>> Source: Happiness How the “Happiness Industry” Is Changing Architecture