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Pier Vittorio Aureli The Room of One’s Own. A Short History of the 'Private Room’

The room is perhaps the most obvious form of architecture, and yet it is the least investigated. It seems that the room has always been there, and that as dwellers, and then as architects, we have had no choice but to live in and design rooms. If the purpose of architecture is to make space then the room is the most direct architectural form that can result from such a claim. While architect Louis Kahn considered the room as the essential origin of architecture, writer Virginia Woolf argued that to have ‘a room of one’s own’ was for a woman of her time a challenge to the patriarchal logic of domestic space. Far from being a timeless form, the room is a product of specific historical circumstances that are related to one of the most controversial and problematic issues of human history: the domestication of society. The architecture of the room expresses subtly and yet directly the way in which households, families, and individuals have been individuated as subjects with distinct gender and class connotations. Evolving from the closet, boudoir, bedchamber, and sleeping cubicle the private room eventually became the bedroom, a place where each dweller is designated a specific position within the household.

Yet The Room of One’s Own also describes the struggle against this logic of individuation. It shows how in certain situations dwellers have used and abused the ‘private’ room as a space of rest, solitude and concentration in direct relationship with a common dwelling space, often overcoming the idea of private property as in the case of communal dwellings. Indeed rooms are never autonomous spaces but always the result of a process of subdivision and individuation that organizes domestic life. The implicit yet unfulfilled promise of ‘the room of one’s own’ is in the reclaiming of this process, not for domestication but for the possibility of a better life.


Pier Vittorio Aureli is an architect and educator. He teaches at the Architectural Association where he is Diploma Unit Master, lecturer in the History & Theory Program and Director of the PhD Program by design. Since 2013 he is The William B. and Shepherd Davenport Visiting Professor, Yale School of Architecture. He is the co-founder of the Brussels based office Dogma. Aureli is the author of many essays and articles and several books including The Project of Autonomy: Politics and Architecture Within and Against Capitalism (2008), The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture (2011), Less is Enough: On Architecture and Asceticism (2013), Ritual and Walls: The Architecture of Sacred Space (2016) and (with Dogma), The Room of One's Own (2017).