In a reflection on beauty and happiness in Atlantic Magazine, writer and historian Cody C. Delistraty, a writer I like a lot, calls attention to another writer I like, Alain de Botton, and deBotton’s wonderful take on McDonald’s and Westminster Cathedral.
And wouldn’t you know there’s a soul-deadening McDonalds “Restaurant”–if any quickie food joint can legitimately be called a restaurant–across the street from the great cathedral.
In The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton weighs the feeling of walking into an “ugly” McDonalds in the Westminster area of London compared to the feeling of entering the “beautiful” Westminster Cathedral across the street. He says that because of the harsh lighting, the plastic furniture, and the cacophonous color scheme (all those bright yellows and reds), one tends to feel immediately “anxious” in the McDonalds.
What one feels in the Westminster Cathedral, however, is a calmness brought on by a series of architectural and artistic decisions: the muted colors (greys and bleak reds), the romantic yellow lighting that bursts out onto Victoria Street, the intricate mosaics, and the vaulted ceilings. Although the Westminster Cathedral has the same principle elements of architecture as the McDonald’s—windows, doors, floors, ceilings, and seats—the cathedral helps people to relax and reflect, where the fast food restaurant causes one to feel stressed and hurried.
It seems part of humans’ appreciation of beauty is because it is able to conjure the feelings we tend to associate with happiness: calmness, a connection to history or the divine, wealth, time for reflection and appreciation, and, perhaps surprisingly, hope.
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