How many of us, as kids, could resist the temptation to climb the stairs in a strange house to see what was “up there”? Now that we’re grown, we suppress these kinds of urges for the sake of propriety, but they still exist in our subconscious minds, and can be drawn upon quite subtly by a clever designer.
In architecture, spaces that draw on the human sense of curiosity are said to have mystery — they foster the creation of drama or suspense by alluding to architectural spaces or features while keeping them partially concealed.
Mystery can subtly entice us toward a particular space. Let’s suppose there are two hollow 8-foot-square cubes about 10 feet away from you. The front of one is open, so that the interior is completely visible. The front of the other has only a 2-foot-square aperture at the center, so that the interior is largely concealed. Which cube will attract you more?
Most people will approach the enclosed cube precisely because they can’t see what’s inside. Likewise, an architectural space that’s immediately comprehensible presents little challenge to the mind — it simply isn’t as interesting as a space that keeps us guessing. And although entertainment is not a designer’s primary charge, an intriguing space is inevitably more memorable than one that simply functions.