……………………..Refuge is a place for
withdrawal, from environmental
conditions or the main flow of activity, in which the
individual is protected from
behind and overhead…………………………….

THe eXPeRIenCe

A space with a good Refuge condition feels safe, providing a sense of retreat and withdrawal – for work, protection, rest or healing – whether alone or in small groups. A good refuge space feels separate or unique from its surrounding environment; its spatial characteristics can feel contemplative, embracing and protective, without unnecessarily disengaging.


The Refuge pattern has evolved from research on visual preference research and spatial habitat responses, and its relationship to Prospect conditions. Refuge conditions are important for restoration experiences and stress reduction, which can be realized through lowered blood pressure and heart rate. Other benefits of Refuge are suggested to include reduced irritation, fatigue and perceived vulnerability, as well as improved concentration, attention and perception of safety (Grahn & Stigsdotter, 2010; Wang & Taylor, 2006; Wang & Taylor, 2006; Petherick, 2000; ulrich et al., 1993).
In small urban parks, park size is less important than the ability to be immersed in the space with the conditions of enclosure leading to restoration (e.g., nordh, Hartig, Hägerhäll & Fry, 2009). In larger parks, the refuge spaces under trees, and in vegetation bordering an open space or meadow, are the preferred locations (e.g., Ruddell & Hammitt, 1987). Though science has yet to establish metrics for frequency or duration of access to refuge conditions, the balance between Refuge and Prospect is suggested to be more important than the size or frequency of the experience (Appleton, 1996).


The primary objective of the Refuge pattern is to provide users with an easily accessible and protective environment – a smaller portion of a larger space – that supports restoration. The secondary objective is to limit visual access into the refuge space. The principal spatial condition is protection overhead and to one’s back, preferably on three sides; strategic placement or orientation of the space can also influence quality of experience.
Common functions of Refuge conditions:
• Weather/climate protection
• Speech or visual privacy
• Reflection or meditation
• Rest or relaxation
• Reading
• Complex cognitive tasks
• Protection from physical danger
In most cases, the refuge is not entirely enclosed, but rather provides some contact (visual or aural) with the surrounding environment for surveillance. The greater the number of protective sides, the greater the refuge condition; however, complete refuge – protection on all sides – is not necessarily the most appropriate or effective solution, as it does not maintain a relationship to the larger space

Design considerations:

  • Indoor refuge spaces are usually characterized by lowered ceiling conditions. For spaces with standard ceiling heights, this may equate to approximately 18-24 inches below the main ceiling, and is often achieved through treatments like a soffit, a drop-ceiling or acoustical paneling, or suspended fabric.
  • Outdoor or indoor spaces with particularly high ceilings (>14 feet), a more drastic differential may be necessary to achieve the desired outcome; freestanding or vegetative alcoves and mezzanine-like structures are often effective.
  • When designing for larger populations or multiple activity types, providing more than one kind of refuge space can address varying needs, which can often be met through differing spatial dimensions, lighting conditions, and degree of concealment.
  • Light levels in refuge spaces should differ from adjacent spaces and user lighting controls will broaden functionality as a refuge space.

Example Characteristics

Spatial Attributes
• modular refuge: Small protection (high-back chair, overhead trellis)
• Partial refuge: Several sides covered (reading nooks, booth seating, bay window seats, canopy beds, gazebos, canopy trees, arcades, covered walkways or porches)
• extensive refuge: near or complete concealment (reading/telephone/ sleeping pods, meeting rooms with 3+ walls, private offices, tree houses)

Common features
• Spaces with weather/climate protection, or speech and visual privacy
• Spaces reserved for reflection, meditation, rest, relaxation, reading, or complex cognitive tasks
• Operable, adjustable or translucent (or semi-opaque) shades, blinds, screens or partitions
• Drop or lowered ceiling or soffit, overhang or canopy • Lowered or varied light color, temperature or brightness

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