Prospect and Refuge
Ambience: Central Park
Let’s say you’re looking for a site to build a house in the country. What would the perfect location be, and why would you choose it? What if the kinds of places we feel most comfortable in are the results of thousands of years of choices? I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
Ellard: One of the most important qualities of that space in terms of influences on how we feel and what we want to do has to do with what’s been called “prospect and refuge”.
Colin Ellard is a cognitive neuroscientist and the author of Places of the Heart: the Psychogeography of Everyday Life. He says that the choices we make in siting a house or even where we choose to sit in a crowded room give us clues about the way humans have evolved.
Ellard: The idea of prospect and refuge is an inherently biological idea. It goes back through the history of human beings. In fact for any kind of animal selecting a habitat, kind of the holy grail of good habitat choice can be summed up by the principal of seeing but not being seen.
Ideally what we want is a set of circumstances where we have some protection, visual protection, in the sense of not being able to be easily located ourselves, and that’s Refuge. But we also want to be able to know what’s going on around us. We need to be able to see out from wherever that refuge is. And that’s Prospect. The operation of our preference for situations that are high in both refuge and prospect is something that cuts across everything we build or everywhere we find ourselves. We’re always more comfortable when we’re in those kinds of situations where we can see and not be seen.
We’ll hear more about psychogeography in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible in part by Virginia Tech, inventing the future through a hands-on approach to education and research.