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The Fourth Place?

Week 10 Discussion

Roy Oldenburg introduced the idea of a ‘third place’ in 1989, a space where people spend time between home (the ‘first place’) and the workplace (the ‘second place’). Third places are traditionally physical spaces such as churches, parks and community centres where large groups of people gather. The main activity of these spaces is informal conversation, and some argue that they are vital for encouraging equity and democratic participation, and have the potential to level out social classes and backgrounds.

Today, these spaces are diminishing in number, and for many the ‘third place’ has shifted to the digital world. Most people interact either at work or home or virtually within the realms of social media. Critics of these virtual third places argue that digital ‘silos’ created for those with similar interests and perspectives are far less effective at exposing us to those with different ideas and beliefs in comparison to those that are physical.

While I agree that many of the interactions that would occur in a third place now happen online, I think that these places still exist in the real world. The University (and for architecture students, the studio) serves what seems to be a similar purpose. While for most students, the primary reason for coming to university is to study and attend lectures, for many of us it is equally important for socialising and interacting with other people. Walking around the university, many of the students are simply ‘hanging out’ rather than necessarily studying. Some merge the two into a kind of hybrid study-social affair (to varying degrees of success).

I think that we have an opportunity to try and create a new physical ‘third place’. Our brief, Within the Mansion asks for a sort of combination of the three: a place to sleep (the ‘first place’), a place to study (the ‘second place’) and a place to socialise and relax (a ‘third place’). The idea of entering our building for a stint of studying, living and socialising introduces the idea of a potential fourth place, where all three of the main daily activities happen within one space. Or perhaps our building is simply a micro society in which each of the spaces is a ‘place’.

I wonder how beneficial it is for the line between the three places to merge. In a world where our constant stimulation and digital connectivity is frequently bemoaned, should our physical spaces reflect this change? Can the three ‘places’ be effectively combined to create a new hybrid space?

2019 D4 Between a Rock and a Hard Place