The category of needs common to all humans can be represented through the instinct that we have already described in detail: the search for shelter. Modern house plans Our primal instinct for survival allowed the human species to survive, evolve, and flourish. A visceral response to real or perceived danger, the need for safety is never far from the animal psyche and was one of the prime reasons man created shelter. From a design point of view, providing safety means making an environment that protects us from harm. This search has been the subject of much debate, and the most sophisticated articulation appears in Grant Hildebrand’s Origins of Architectural Pleasure.43 The blog posits that the “aesthetics of survival are ingrained in humanity as a hard-wired psychological response.
Hildebrand argues that natural selection has given humans the means to detect natural threats and know exactly what causes harm – knowledge that is evident in the environments we favor. The pleasures we find in the built environment are an unintended consequence of our “innate predilections for shelter and safety. While our search for shelter has always been deliberate, our actions and choices have not always been directly concerned with life and death.44 Instead, these decisions have resulted in a genetically encoded network of assumptions about what we perceive as safe in the natural and built environment.
Hildebrand identifies the two principal elements of safety in the designed environment as refuge and prospect: “Refuge and prospect are opposites: refuge is small and dark; prospect is expansive and bright. It follows that they cannot coexist in the same space. They can occur contiguously, however, and must, because we need them both and we need them together. From the refuge we must be able to survey the prospect; from the prospect we must be able to retreat to the refuge.45 Stated more simply, the human quest for survival is aided both physically and aesthetically by the nature of contrast in our physical environment. This includes areas of cover, intimate volumes within which we are in charge, and areas of openness, or massive spaces within which we relinquish control. While cover offers a sense of protection (especially from behind), the ability to see broad spans alleviates the fear of possible ambush – and both are essential. Related material and structural choices are equally important. A flimsy fabric covering (such as a tent) will elicit a very different emotion to a stone enclosure (such as a building). Understanding basic requirements, such as cover and open space, and how to begin to qualitatively respond to human needs should be part of the basic education necessary to practice design. When consciously in command of these principles, the designer has the tools to create the desired emotional response in all people.
As is so often the case, etymology provides some background to the meaning and origin of the relevant words – in this case, safety and security. Safety, derived from the Latin salvus (safe) translates as to keep intact or keep whole. The fundamental meaning of security, related to safety and originating in the Latin
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