In How do emotions work? – Basic model of emotions we explained how emotions work according to the basic model of emotion. Knowing this now, we think 2 questions are important for the application of the basic model in architecture:

  1. Are there concerns that apply for all humans? (Primal concerns)
  2. And how about concerns that relate specifically to architecture? (Architectural concerns)


1. Primal concerns

The basic concerns of humans is probably best described by ‘the hierarchy of needs’ of Maslow. (1) This theory is often depicted as a pyramid consisting of 5 levels: the 4 lower levels are grouped together as deficiency needs associated with physiological needs, while the top level is termed growth needs associated with psychological needs.

Base level – Physiological
The base of the pyramid is formed by the physiological needs, including the biological requirements for food, water, air, and sleep.

2nd level – Safety
The second level, the need for safety and security. Included here are the needs for structure, order, security, and predictability.

3rd level – Love/belonging
The third level, the need for love and belonging. Included here are the needs for friends and companions, a supportive family, identification with a group, and an intimate relationship.

4th level – Esteem
The fourth level, the esteem needs. This group of needs requires both recognition from other people that results in feelings of prestige, acceptance, and status, and self-esteem that results in feelings of adequacy, competence, and confidence. Lack of satisfaction of the esteem needs results in discouragement and feelings of inferiority.

5th level – Self-actualization
Finally, self-actualization sits at the apex of the original pyramid. Self-actualization is the instinctual need of humans to make the most of their abilities and to strive to be the best they can.

Although the pyramid may suggest that from level to level all the needs must be satisfied first to be able to concentrate on an other level, this however is not the case. For example, people who have to get by in life without enough food, water and safety can still feel satisfaction with needs from the higher levels, like family and morality.

2. Architectural concerns

Some of the needs Maslow describes in his theory can be satisfied by architecture. But his theory describes the general basic needs of humans and not the specific needs concerning architecture. The evolutionary perspective, as discussed in What is emotion? – 3 Perspectives on Emotion, describes these basic architectural needs or concerns more profoundly. We’ll briefly explain 5 of the most basis architectural concerns from the evolutionary perspective right now. In following posts we’ll explain these basic concerns in more detail.

Prospect and Refuge – Cave “Szachownica, Niewiadomski (from

1. Prospect and Refuge
The evolutionary perspective explains that humans are not as well equipped as animals. We don’t have fur to protect us against climate changes. That is why we need a shelter against weather changes like rain, wind and cold. We also need a shelter to protect us from these animals, because we don’t have claws or a shield to defend ourselves. We prefer a shelter (refuge) with a view (prospect), because humans have their field of vision to the front (prospect), therefore needing some sort of protection from behind (refuge).
Read more about Prospect and Refuge

2. Exploration
Another very important basic concern seen from the evolutionary perspective is the need to explore. We need to explore our surroundings to search for new sources of food and to secure ourselves from possible threats.
The promise of new information makes us curious. We try to hypothesize what will be next – we anticipate a variety of possibilities and this fascinates us.
Read more about Exploration

3. Enticement
Humans prefer to explore from dark to light. We move from the dark refuge to the bright prospect, so we can always retread back in our safe refuge. This phenomenon is called enticement. A very important aspect of this preference to explore from dark to light is that we see without being seen. The opposite – exploring from light to dark makes us feel unsafe. For example in horror movies this is used with the scary darkness on top of the stairs.
Read more about Enticement

4. Thrill
Thrill can be described as a combination of emotions. We’re talking about the combination of fear and pleasure. With thrill we try to explore the boundaries of real dangers, seen or sensed,  but avoiding them rests within our control. Appleton says: “[…] Seeking the assurance that we can handle danger by actually experiencing it is therefore itself a source of pleasure.” (2)
Read more about Thrill

5. Dramatizing a Haven
Also in our homes we enjoy the aspect of thrill, although less extreme. It’s like being tucked save in bed with the rain pounding on the roof, or gathering around a fire with a storm raging outside. In each case the sense of security is dramatized by the nearness of discomfort and even danger. The value of the shelter is intensified by giving evidence of what it protects against.

Read more about Dramatizing a Haven

Can you think of more basis human concerns in architecture?

What do you think? We’d like to hear your thoughts. And if you have any other comments, questions or ideas, please let us know.


  1. MASLOW, A.H.(1970) Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper and Row – affiliate link
  2. APPLETON, J. (1994) How I Made the World: Shaping a View of Landscape (Environmental Studies) (p. 207) – affiliate link

6 thoughts on “5 Basic Human Concerns in Architecture

    1. @Ruimtelijke Ontwikkeling: Thanks for your comment. Can you elaborate on why Maslow is overrated? I would be really interested to hear your views.

  1. Maslow’s theory is one of many. It is the most popular yet is not the most validated. Other notable early motivational theorists are McClelland, Hertzberg, McGregor, Alderfer. A typical criticism of Maslow is that it is too simplistic and doesn’t account for individual differences. Fpr more recent views on motivation look at the work of Dan Pink

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