I am presenting a paper at Tom Gilb’s annual conference in London later this afternoon – and will be showing this amazing animated video. Hope you enjoy!
The third place is a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings which are separate from the two normal social environments of our homes (first place) and the workplace (second place).
In his influential book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg (1989, 1991) argues that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place. Oldenburg calls one’s “first place” the home and those that one lives with. The “second place” is the workplace — where people may actually spend most of their time.
Third places, then, are “anchors” of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction. All societies already have informal meeting places; what is new in modern times is the intentionality of seeking them out as vital to current societal needs. Oldenburg suggests that the three hallmarks of a true “third place” are that they are free or inexpensive; provide food and drink (while not essential, quite important); and that they are highly accessible. Starbucks and Costa are obvious examples, but villages and rural communities often have other third places such as a cafe, a pub, a church hall or a school hall.
As more and more people choose to telecommute and work from home, third places become ever more important as the bridge between the old world and the new world of work: both paid and voluntary.
If we are going to re-invent society around more local, sustainable ways of working, then the nurturing of our third places becomes central to this new philosophy for 21st century living. And if we see want these “communities of place” to replace the industrial factories and call-centres and office factories of yesterday, then we must provide them with the latest broadband.
Hence Fibre to the Third Place. WiFi hotspots do some of it, but there remains a lot more work to do!
For those who know me, I just love the artistic form called the Palindrome or Crab Script. I took a lot of inspiration from this piece by J.S. Bach – which plays the same forwards and backwards, as well as being able to be played forwards and backwards AT THE SAME TIME – and still be beautiful. What a true masterpiece!
This video lets you see it being played on a Moebius Strip – all the more beautiful as an art form, linking geometry and music in this elegant (yet quite constricting) art form which I love to play with!
Louis Sullivan, the American architect is said to be the person who originally coined the phrase in 1896, in his article “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered”.
The full text is as follows:
It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
Of all things physical and metaphysical,
Of all things human and all things super-human,
Of all true manifestations of the head,
Of the heart, of the soul,
That the life is recognizable in its expression,
That form ever follows function.
This is the law.
The phrase became a rallying cry for the Modernist Architects of the 1930s who took the idea to an extreme and believed that all ornamentation on a building was superfluous. However, Sullivan himself did not believe that architecture should be without art or ornamentation. As an architect, he would often punctuate the plain surfaces of his buildings with eruptions of lush, floral Art Nouveau or Celtic Revival ornamentation using either metalwork or terracotta.
The debate also extended to the heart of the evolutionary debate, where Lamarck’s (long-discredited) theory of evolution stated that anatomy will be structured according to functions associated with use: for instance giraffes are taller so that they can reach the higher leaves of the trees that they graze. Contrast that idea with Darwin’s theory of evolution, where form (or variation) precedes function (as determined by natural selection). It is interesting which idea won the day there!
The debate as to whether or not form follows function extends right to the heart of modern design thinking. Product design, fashion design, garden design and even software design all have an inherent tension between function and ornamentation.
“Form ever follows function” may or may not be true depending on the situation. Unlike Sullivan, I don’t think it is a universal law. However, I do believe that form flows from a force that is far more mysterious than function!
It is this force that I aim to investigage in this blog. Funny place to start, perhaps. But you have to start somewhere!