How Fear Helps Design Buildings by Joanna Bourke

Don’t you just hate modern cinemas? Compared to the intimate, cozy theaters of yesteryear, cinema’s today are too bright, too big and too open.And yet, there is a very simple reason why cinemas, and other public spaces, are bright and airy.

Blame panic for soulless buildings

Yes, vintage public buildings look cool – but they’re not all that safe. With their tight corridors and dim lighting, old buildings can become death traps if the people inside panic due to a fire or other emergency. 

Throughout history, there have been many tragedies due to poor building design. For example, in 1883 over 180 children died in a crush at a theater performance in Sunderland’s Victoria Hall, England.

Only after a handful of such tragic events did architects begin to design public buildings with a panicking audience in mind; thus the large, open spaces and wide, bright corridors.

So next time you’re in a large, soulless arena or cinema, remember its lack of character is integral to your safety!

For more on how fear and panic have affected human history, including why low-income people fear death more than their wealthier counterparts, read our blinks to Fear, by Joanna Bourke.

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