Together alone: a 'sense of place'

The social aspects of work are becoming more and more important to think about when looking at the mental health of people in the workplace. It's basic human nature for people to want to connect to other people. Sad to say, not everyone you want to work with will be working in the same place.  And you might not want or need to be with people all of the time. 


There are different ways in which people talk about the idea of 'place'. I like to think of the place as different to a space in that place has things in it that you can name, a sort of character, whereas a space needs to be filled, it's a negative instead of a positive.   The words 'sense of place'  are useful here.  For more formal thoughts on sense of place from an architecture point of view, here is an article from the International Journal of Human and Social Sciences. I like the way Harrison and Dourish talk about the two ideas of space and place- 'we are located in "space", but we act in "place", or to put it another way 'space is always what it is, but a place is how it's used.'

My sense of this is that we are going to see a lot of work being done by a pretty new profession – environmental psychology – over the coming years. Here's what environmental psychologists at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom say: 

"Psychological processes are invariably place-related.... Many problems in society are a product of the relationship between people and their environmental context".  It's not just the problems though, it's also the chance of success.  Since we spend so much money on the planning, design, construction and management of building the physical environment,  we should do our best to get this right. 

There are two key ideas which float around facilities management circles -  workplace planning and work space planning.  If we agree that space and place are not the same thing, and if we focus on 'space planning' then we'll end up buildings that don't fully support people's needs.  The hard thing is that 'place' involves people, and anything that involves people is complex.  Building great 'workplaces' is always going to be a struggle but well worth the effort to get the best value for everyone.