To See, Without Being Seen

Cover. Ogetsu-ka ['Main Hall'], Shisen-do ['Hall of Immortal Poets'], Tokyo, Japan. Landscape Architect: Jozan Ishikawa. Photographer: Sskmsnr.


This text is replicated from Universal Principles of Design: 100 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach Through Design by William Lidwell, Kritina-Holden and Jill Butler.



Whether a marketing campaign or a museum exhibit, a video game or a complex control system, the design we see is the culmination of many concepts and practices brought together from a variety of disciplines. Because no one can be an expert on everything, designers have always had to scramble to find the information and know-how required to make a design work - until now. Universal Principles of Design is the first comprehensive, cross-disciplinary encyclopedia of design. Richly illustrated and easy to navigate, it pairs clear explanations of every design concept with visual examples of the concepts applied in practice. From the '80/20' rule to chunking, from baby-face bias to Occam's razor, and from self-similarity to storytelling, every major design concept is defined and illustrated for readers to expand their knowledge. This landmark reference will become the standard for designers, engineers, architects, and students who seek to broaden and improve their design expertise.



People prefer environments where they can easily survey their surroundings and quickly hide or retreat to safety if necessary. Environments with both prospect and refuge elements are perceived as safe places to explore and dwell, and consequently are considered more aesthetic than environments without these elements. The principle is based on the evolutionary history of humans, reasoning that environments with ample prospects and refuges increased the probability of survival for pre-humans and early humans.

Note 1 
The seminal work on prospect-refuge theory is by Jay Appleton [1975]. The Experience of Landscape. John Wiley & Sons.

The prospect-refuge principle suggests that people prefer the edges, rather than middles of spaces; spaces with ceilings or covers overhead; spaces with few access points [protected at the back or side]; spaces that provide unobstructed views from multiple vantage points; and spaces that provide a sense of safety and concealment. The preference for these elements is heightened if the environment is perceived to be hazardous or potentially hazardous. 


'Before we break through the last bushes and out of cover to the free expanse of the meadow, we do what all wild animals ... would do under similar circumstances: we reconnoiter, seeking, before we leave our cover, to gain from it the advantage which it can offer alike to hunter and hunted - namely to see without being seen.'

- Konrad Lorenz


Environments that achieve a balance between prospects and refuges are the most preferred. In natural environments, prospects include hills, mountains, and trees near open settings. Refuges include enclosed spaces such as caves, dense vegetation, and climbable trees with dense canopies nearby. In human-created environments, prospects include deep terraces and balconies, and generous use of windows and glass doors. Refuges include alcoves with lowered ceilings and external barriers, such as gates and fences. 

Note 2
See. for example. Grant Hildebrand [1991]. The Wright Space: Pattern and Meaning in Frank Lloyd Wrights Houses. University of Washington Press.

The design goal of prospect-refuge can be summarised as the development of spaces where people can see without being seen. Consider prospect-refuge in the creation of landscapes, residences, offices, and communities. Create multiple vantage points within a space, so that the internal and external areas can be easily surveyed. Make large, open areas more appealing by using screening elements to create partial refuges with side-and back barriers while maintaining clear lines of sight [e.g., shrubbery, partitions]. Balance the use of prospect and refuge elements for optimal effect - e.g., sunken floors and ceilings that open to larger spaces enclosed by windows and glass doors.
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