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Hidden Fear - raising awareness of how architects, planners and designers can help sufferers

Posted: 3rd May 2018

Michael Kindred

Retired to France, 80, and still a games inventor and writer

Have you ever met anyone who has a phobia of getting trapped in a rabbit warren of corridors in a building, or cannot use a toilet that has a door that closes automatically, or that has to be locked? I'm talking about claustrophobia and I have a rather high degree of it. When I'm away from the house for a longish period, I make plans for coping with the need for a toilet, and if I'm in an area with which I'm familiar, I know where my user-friendly loos are.

I wonder if you know of anyone who has an intense fear of coping with crossing bridges, or going up above ground floor in high rise buildings? How about yourself? I'm referring to acrophobia, and I'm really scared of heights and edges. I started my working life as an articled pupil in an architectural practice, and I had several heart-pounding moments during site visits! Eventually I gave up trying to qualify as an architect and became an inventor of board and card games, and an author. Much safer!

Acrophobia and claustrophobia are the two main phobias which cause people difficulties in encountering the built environment. The other condition which can cause difficulties is General Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Most people are reticent about talking about their phobias, out of shame, embarrassment and/or guilt. The estimated number or people with some degree of acrophobia in the UK is15,000,000 and the estimated number or people with some degree of claustrophobia in the UK is 6,000,000.

This is why I produced the free publication ‘Hidden Fear’. It's origins began many years ago when I wanted to write about many scary encounters with buildings and other structures, which I and a lot of other phobic people had experienced. Eventually I was very pleased to have an article on the subject published in the Architects' Journal in 1997 but it’s only in the last two years that I have tackled this final stage.

A lot has been done for people with physical disability, and I hope much more will be done. However, since I wrote the article which appeared in the Architects' Journal, not a great deal has happened to help make buildings and other structures more user-friendly for people with hidden fears.

Through Hidden Fears I have made a list of suggestions to try to raise awareness of the issues surrounding phobias and GAD. They are deliberately offered as suggestions, because I realise that the Building Regulations and many other legal requirements have to be adhered to by planners.

My hope is that eventually this topic, albeit very small, will become a part of the training of students of architecture, planning and design to help make our places truly inclusive.

Contributor: Michael Kindred is retired and still a games inventor. He is helping to raise awareness of hidden fears in relation to the built environment. You can download a copy of Hidden Fears by clicking here and for further information please contact Michael on