Place is design independent. It is not one thing, but a thousand things, existing at a variety of scales and types. What differentiates place from nonplace is the enduring emotional bond between people and space.
At a very basic level, a place is something to go back to, truly important to some, but may be inconsequential, if not unremarkable, to others. This bond is a source of yearning, nostalgia, affection, melancholy, memory, identity, and citizenship. To create place is the ultimate prize architects strive for in their dreams to shape a better world. Although place exists outside of design, design can help make place happen. We all recognize when a site is a place, but what makes it a place remains elusive. In fact, we are hard pressed to pinpoint all the intangibles that bestow “placeness” upon an otherwise undifferentiated piece of land. At least in our minds and hearts, we know we are in a place, but we are unable to say exactly how in a way that allows us to reproduce it with accuracy.
In addition, issues of authenticity become prominent in matters of place-making. Are Disneyland and the Venetian Las Vegas places? Considering how crowded these two venues are, it seems most people would say yes. Even as urban fantasies, they are catalysts for the vibrancy that makes spaces memorable. The old European settlements get the limelight in conversations on places. Rome, for instance, offers limitless examples of small and large places where life unfolds seamlessly, blending practicality and pleasure. The ground condition takes center stage for the interaction of people, context, and activators, the last being the sparks generating sustained human activity. These three elements are truly inseparable. Architects concerned with place might see in this interdependence a central paradigm of a human-centered urbanity to be pursued with varying degrees in all projects: besides an aesthetic effect, space has an evocative effect as well. Each place carries a unique array of qualitative attributes, and each of these attributes exist along a spectrum. French writer Marguerite Yourcenar wrote that “Time is a Mighty Sculptor”. It certainly is for architecture to become a place. As days go by, the realized design is enmeshed in the flow of living, accumulating on its surfaces the story of its inhabitants. The life of architecture is architecture in life.