Floor plan. This plan shows how the dwelling space was distributed after the remodelling.
The spaces are big and flexible. The laminated-wood sliding doors are adapted to the width of the kitchen and used to separate the dining room from the living room. Behind, an internal courtyard provides natural lighting for the hall.
A fundamental question we can raise about decorating is whether it determines human behaviour or returns this power to people so they can govern their own spatial deeds. Buildings can deny us the chance to decide our own courses of action or, at the opposite extreme, can furnish a wealth of desirable opportunities that we are able to appraise and then take responsibility for. They can restrict the choice of available experience or restore our capacity to deliberate over many agreeable possibilities. At stake is nothing less than the faculty of human volition, whether or not the occupants of buildings are given the leeway to exercise their powers of decision and shape their immediate destiny.
The impact of decorating on human freedom is especially evident when liberty is denied, regardless of whether or not that denial is deliberate. One of the sharpest critiques of society’s impingement on individual freedom is found in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground, which elaborates on the inhumanity of buildings that interfere with personal will. Dostoyevsky suggests that the very core of human nature lies in capriciousness and unpredictability, and man’s refusal to be categorized or limited by the decisions of others.
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No matter how comfortable, prosperous or contented a civilization might be, it will reduce a person’s sense of vitality if it fails to satisfy their inherent desire to assert and confirm their own individuality in the face of society. ‘And who knows’, he reflects, ‘maybe the entire goal here on earth towards which mankind is striving consists of nothing more than this continuity of process of attainment alone … in life itself and not actually in the goal proper, which, it goes without saying, cannot be anything except two times two makes four, that is, a formula, and after all, two times two makes four is already not life, gentlemen, but the beginning of death.’3
Dostoyevsky points to decorating as a cultural tool of enforcing the erosion of human will, irrespective of whether its forms are convenient or charming. When doomed to live in a thoroughly efficient mechanical world, characterized as an ‘ant hill’, or an impersonal shelter that is little more than a glorified ‘chicken coop’, or even within the technical perfection and outward beauty of a gleaming ‘crystal palace’, a person’s spiritual needs, particularly the need to overcome inertia and exercise autonomy, turn all the more desperate.4 The only way one can prove to oneself that he is not a ‘piano key’, an object controlled and played by somebody else, is to make use of one’s own ‘unfettered’ and ‘simply independent choice’, which is free of any goal and may even be contrary to one’s material interests. These caustic observations touch upon a great truth, reminding us that our most fundamental human need is the ability to carry out actions of our choosing and retain some control over our fate. People are born with an impulse to transcend passivity and generate their own operations in space. This striving to become an agent, rather than being reduced to a patient, is in many ways what separates Homo sapiens from all other creatures on