Mystery is the promise of more
information achieved through
partially obscured views or
other sensory devices that
entice the individual to travel
deeper into the environment

THe eXPeRIenCe

A space with a good mystery condition has a palpable sense of anticipation, or of being teased, offering the senses a kind of denial and reward that compels one to further investigate the space.


The mystery pattern is largely based on the idea that people have two basic needs in environments: to understand and to explore (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989) and that these ‘basic needs’ should occur “from one’s current position” in order to engender a sense of mystery (Herzog and Bryce, 2007). The mystery pattern has evolved from research on visual preference and perceived danger, as well as pleasure responses to anticipatory situations. Mystery engenders a strong pleasure response within the brain that may be a similar mechanism to that of anticipation, which is hypothesized to be an explanation for why listening to music is so pleasurable – in that we are guessing what may be around the corner. [P13] The benefits of mystery conditions are suggested to include improved preference for a space; heightened curiosity; increased interest in gaining more information and greater likelihood of encountering other biophilic conditions.
A quality mystery condition does not engender a fear response; the conditions that differentiate between surprise (i.e., fear) and pleasure center around the visual depth of field. An obscured view with a shallow depth of field has shown to lead to unpleasant surprises, whereas greater visual access, with a medium (≥20 ft) to high (≥100 ft) depth of field is preferred (Herzog and Bryce, 2007).
A good mystery condition could also be expressed through the obscuring of the boundaries and a portion of the focal subject (i.e., room, building, outdoor space, or other information source), thereby enticing the user to anticipate the full extent of the subject and explore the space further (Ikemi, 2005).


Mystery characterizes a place where an individual feels compelled to move forward to see what is around the corner; it is the partially revealed view ahead. The objective of the mystery pattern is to provide a functional environment that encourages exploration in a manner that supports stress reduction and cognitive restoration. While other ‘nature of the Space’ patterns can be experienced in a stationary position, mystery implies movement and analysis starting from a place perceived in a fundamentally positive way.Design considerations that will help create a quality mystery condition:

  • Curving edges that slowly reveal are more effective than sharp corners in drawing people through a space.
  • Dramatic shade and shadows can enhance the mystery experience.
  • Strategies that provide dark shadows or shallow depth of fieldcould instill unappreciated surprise or fear.
  • The speed at which users are transiting through a space will influence both the size of the aperture and the size of the subject;faster typically means bigger.
  • Organically evolved mystery conditions (e.g., low maintenance gardens with winding paths) are expectedly going to change characteristics over time. These changes should be monitored as they may enhance the mystery condition, or otherwise degrade it as it evolved into a surprise condition (e.g., overgrowth of plantings leads to obscuring of depth of field).

Example Characteristics

Spatial Attributes
• views are medium (≥ 20 ft) to high (≥ 100 ft) depth of field
• At least one edge of the focal subject is obscured, preferably two edges
• Auditory stimulation from an imperceptible source
• Peek-a-boo windows that partially reveal curving edges
• Winding paths

Common features
• Light and shadow
• Sound or vibration
• Scent
• Activity or movement
• Artwork or installation
• Form and flow
• Translucent materials

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *