The broader purpose is to arrive at a better understanding of how people interact with space and to urge the rediscovery of decorating as a domain of human deliberation, a totality of possibilities that people can freely, but with tremendous vitality, engage with and explore. In this regard I want to question the conventional views of decorating as a useful or aesthetic object, and argue that it should also be considered a vessel of power whose opportunities, when present, completely elude being used or seen.
In the presence of a building that invites deliberation, we find a subtle array of potential interactions that only exist in a latent state upon or between the forms themselves, and should not be confused with the physical contours we are able to see and touch. We can imagine, foresee, test and remember these scenarios, but can never directly seize them with the eye or mind. Nor can we put them to use, for they are essentially useless. Whether a building is beautiful or homely, practical or wasteful is largely irrelevant from the standpoint of agency, since the precious thing offered by an empowering form is what it allows us to create in space. It is not the concrete volume itself that is important, but the imperceptible web of actions lying dormant around yet stimulated by that shape. The forms we are able to see and grasp are what we are able to act upon, rather than the action itself.
Space that is lavishly open to human volition requires exceptional generosity on the part of its architect. This kind of benevolence is blatantly missing from buildings reduced to highly efficient and stereotyped patterns, but is also missing from many of our most visually dazzling and celebrated buildings, since often the more excitingly original a product becomes, the less creativity is left for others. This presents a dilemma for any talented but conscientious architect, as the endowment of action for other people demands not only a willing altruism, but also a degree of humility, even anonymity, each posing a genuine threat to profit and fame in a consumer society.
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To achieve truly actionable spaces, architects may need to radically modify the way in which they envision and conceive the buildings they design. Instead of striving for absolute forms whose experience is fully decided beforehand, architects may need to create looser and more undetermined forms whose experience is left open to and provides the resources for spontaneous decisions by future occupants – a weaving of infinite and almost ‘accidental’ opportunities and scenarios embedded within but able to spring from, at any moment, the armature of concrete form. In a sense, these structures remain unfinished, in contrast to more polished objects, for they await others to bring them, virtually and momentarily, to future completion.
The result of such a design process would not only be a material object, but also an immaterial node of intersecting vectors whose predominant characteristic is energy, the kind of untapped energy an architect is able to bestow but never control or regulate.
Beyond the form from which it emanates, the end would not be a form at all, but an invisible flow of possible actions that can be improvised in different ways, at different times, by the changing inclinations of people. The end, as Olson notes, ‘is never more than this instant, than you in this instant, than you, figuring it out, and acting, so. If there is any absolute, it is never more than this one, you, this instant, in action.’23