A place in space or lost in space?


There are some fairly unusual job titles out there now. Have you ever heard of the word 'placemaker'?  [I can't complain as I call myself a 'work strategist'. Come to think of it, I rather like the way the word 'placemaker' is like 'pacemaker', it makes me think of putting the heart into place]. The title placemaker is used in urban planning and it really makes sense when you think of the village square or 'Piazzas' you find in Europe. 

In Australia, we don't tend to live as closely packed in as they do in Europe, so this 'sense of place' that comes together when lots of people use one spot, the thing that turns a 'space' into 'place', shapes up in different ways here in Oz. As historian Alan Atkinson wrote in the Australian recently, 'It's not just about space (land, water or whatever), and it's not just about people, but about the way the two interact.' 

There is a shift at the moment to reduce the footprint of our buildings, to save square metres and to put more people into one spot. The walls of the work space, of our businesses, in theory at least, should naturally force us to be together. The interesting thing here is that we don't really have to be together, we might be able to work at home, or on our phonesoutside of the building.  Being ordered to be in a single space might not work, after all we are adults, we have to be pulled in, not pushed together.

This idea of being pulled together is where the coffee shop fits in (the best barista is often a drawcard), the space that has the comfortable chairs and the best light, or the quiet spot. The most important thing is to understand that people and space = place; anything that attracts people is more likely to turn a 'space' into a 'place'. In theory land, we are looking for what are called 'strange attractors', and coffee and a wifi signal are just two examples.

Here's the catch.  The designers of space are often making big assumptions about what people need, what will pull them in.  Since people are supposed to be doing work,  the missing detail is often  around exactly how people go about their work and that is often hidden from the designers. Design is therefore often hit and miss and we end up with 'spacemaking' instead of 'placemaking'.  If we want to build excellent  places for people to work, we need to have more attention paid to what exactly the work is and how people choose to work and it's necessarily about putting them in any particular category  because will always get that just a little bit wrong and perhaps in critical ways.