Risk/Peril is an identifiable
threat coupled with a
reliable safeguard.

THe eXPeRIenCe

A space with a good Risk/Peril condition feels exhilarating, and with an implied threat, maybe even a little mischievous or perverse. One feels that it might be dangerous, but intriguing, worth exploring and possibly even irresistible.


Risk can be generated by a learned or biophobic response triggered by a near and present danger. This danger, however, is inert and unable to cause harm due to a trusted element of safety. The defining difference between Risk/Peril and fear is the level of perceived threat and perceived control (Rapee, 1997). Having an awareness of a controllable risk can support positive experiences that result in a strong dopamine or pleasure responses. These experiences play a role in developing risk assessment during childhood. In adults, short doses of dopamine support motivation, memory, problem solving and fight-or-flight responses; whereas, long-term exposure to intense Risk/Peril conditions may lead to over-production of dopamine, which is implicated in depression and mood disorders.[P14]


The objective of the Risk/Peril pattern is to arouse attention and curiosity, and refresh memory and problem solving skills. There are different degrees of risk that can be incorporated into a design depending on the intended user or the space available; a cantilevered walkway over a sheer cliff is an extreme case; viewing a predator in a zoo exhibit may provide a greater sense of control; whereas, rock- hopping through a gentle water feature presents the risk of getting one’s feet wet.
Design considerations that will help create a quality Risk/Peril condition:

  • Risk/Peril design interventions are usually quite deliberate and as such will not be appropriate for all user groups or places.
  • Design strategies that rely on spatial conditions will be easier to implement when incorporated as early as concept design and schematic phases of the design process.
  • The element of safety must protect the user from harm while still permitting the experience of risk.

Example Characteristics

Spatial Attributes
• Heights
• Gravity
• Water
• Predator-prey role reversal

Perceived risks
• Falling
• Getting wet
• Getting hurt
• Loss of control

Common features
•Double-height atrium with balcony or catwalk
• Architectural cantilevers
• Infinity edges • Façade with floor-to- ceiling transparency
• experiences or objects that are perceived to be defying or testing gravity
• Transparent railing or floor plane
• Passing under, over or through water
• Proximity to an active honeybee apiary or predatory animals
• Life-sized photography of spiders or snakes

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