Next in the series on Basic human concerns is Thrill, as already briefly discussed in 5 Basic Human Concerns in Architecture. Although on first thoughts thrill may not seem like a basic concern, it is actually very basic to human beings as will be explained below.
Thrill of the place
Grant Hildebrand explains the basic concern thrill with a postcard from the Napes Needle from the English lake district (on the right). This popular postcard shows two people perched atop the pinnacle Napes Needle. Hildebrand asks himself: “Why is the postcard so popular? Why are the people there? There is no reason to suppose any practical purpose to either the postcard or the perch, nor any reason to imagine that either postcard buyers or climbers have been coerced. So there must be something pleasurable in this for all parties. But [why] is that pleasurable? The prospect is extraordinary; no doubt of that.
But the setting is obviously fraught with extreme danger; one slip and life is over. And we know that that is part of the point, that what the climbers, and the postcard buyers too, have sought and presumably are enjoying is the thrill of the place – and the word ‘thrill’ is the key. It is paradoxical word: it involves two emotions, fear and pleasure, that are normally mutually exclusive. In this setting and all voluntarily experienced settings that carry a similar component of danger, thrill is the emotion we seek and enjoy.” (1)
If we want to call thrill a basic concern, we need a deeper reason why we seek and enjoy this emotion. Appleton provides the answer, he argues that survival requires sensitivity to danger signals: “If we were to be interested only in those features of our environment which are suggestive of safety, cosiness and comfort, and not at all concerned with those which suggest danger, what sort of recipe for survival would that be? Seeking the assurance that we can handle danger by actually experiencing it is therefore itself a source of pleasure.” (2) Humans need challenges to keep training their skills, or as Veenhoven explains it: “paradise is not liveable”. (3)
The latest extreme example of a building made almost only for the thrill is the Grand Canyon Skywalk. This tourist attraction along the Colorado River is built on the edge of the Grand Canyon in the US state of Arizona. The horseshoe-shaped glass walkway protrudes 20 meters beyond the edge of the canyon and suspends 1.200 meter above the canyon floor, a height more than twice that of the world’s tallest skyscraper. (4)
So if you dare to step out onto the Skywalk only a few sheets of glass will stand between you and a 15-second free-fall to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. (5)
Thrill = fear + pleasure
- Real dangers, seen or sensed, no question they exist,
- But avoidance of them rests within our control
- HILDEBRAND, G. (1999) Origins of Architectural Pleasure (p. 67-68). California: University of California Press – affiliate link
- APPLETON, J. (1994) How I Made the World: Shaping a View of Landscape (Environmental Studies) (p. 207) – affiliate link
- VEENHOVEN, as quoted in: M.J. van Dorst, (2005) Een duurzame leefbare omgeving (in Dutch) (p.86). Delft: Eburon, 2005
- BRIGHT, A.M. (2006) Skywalk to offer thrilling Grand Canyon view (source: CNN.com).
- BRIGHT, A.M., A Cliff-Hanger (source unknown)