Do survival instincts have anything to do with our architectural choices—our liking for a certain room, a special stairway, a plaza in a particular city? In this engaging study Grant Hildebrand discusses ways in which architectural forms emulate some archetypal settings that humans have found appealing—and useful to survival—from ancient times to the present.
Speculating that nature has "designed" us to prefer certain conditions and experiences, Hildebrand is interested in how the characteristics of our most satisfying built environments mesh with Darwinian selection. In examining the appeal of such survival-based characteristics he cites architectural examples spanning five continents and five millennia. Among those included are the Palace of Minos, the Alhambra, Wells cathedral, the Shinto shrine at Ise, the Piazza San Marco, Brunelleschi's Pazzi Chapel, Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, a Seattle condominium, and recent houses by Eric Owen Moss and Arne Bystrom.
Just what characteristics bestow evolutionary benefits? "Refuge and prospect" offer a protective place of concealment close to a foraging and hunting ground. "Enticement" invites the safe exploration of an information-rich setting where worthwhile discoveries await. "Peril" elicits an emotion of pleasurable fear and so tests and increases our competence in the face of danger: thus the attraction of a skyscraper or a house poised over a vertiginous ravine. "Order and complexity" tease our intuitions for sorting complex information into survival-useful categories.
Gracefully written, with excellent illustrations that complement the text, Origins of Architectural Pleasure will open the reader's eyes to new ways of seeing a home, a workplace, a vacation setting, even a particular table in a restaurant. It also suggests important design considerations for buildings with a more pressing mandate for human appeal, such as hospitals, retirement homes, and hospices.
Grant Hildebrand is Professor of Architecture and Art History at the University of Washington, Seattle, and the author of The Wright Space: Pattern and Meaning in Frank Lloyd Wright's Houses (1991).
"Grant Hildebrand gives a vivid and cogent analysis of the ingredients that have made beautiful places throughout history, explaining what in our nature makes us feel that way. The examples and illustrations are striking and provide a compelling argument for his thesis. Important reading for anyone interested in the theory and practice of inventing a new architecture."—Robert J. Frasca, NAIA
"Hildebrand's notions of prospect and refuge, enticement, peril, and complex order open up views to an architectural thinking that is grounded in bio-cultural and ecological understandngs of spatial situations, thus complementing our quest for beauty. In fact, Grant Hildebrand suggests that aesthetic choice itself has motivation in early evolutionary stategies for survival. In order to provide satisfactory domicile for the urban dweller of the third millennium, architecture must continue to acknowledge the hunter, gatherer, and farmer concealed in the genetic coding of human behavior."—Juhani Pallasma, Architect
"This is a book of great originality, importance, and relevance. Grant Hildebrand offers us extraordinary insights regarding the dual and interactive relation of human biology and culture in the formation of our aesthetic responses to the built environment. His book could be very helpful to those architects, planners, and environmentalists seeking to better capture and restore the human biological relation to nature in our various architectural forms."—Stephen Kellert, author of The Value of Life: Biological Diversity and Human Existence
Governor’s Writer’s Awards, Washington Center for the Book at the Seattle Public Library
1992 Pacific Coast Branch Award, American Historical Association