Since the beginning of civilization, human beings are social animals. The ability to cooperate in large groups makes humans the most powerful beings on Earth. People created spaces for rest and called them home. Then, he created spaces for work. Afterward, he created spaces to chat and enjoy with other fellow human beings. Man built the towns and the cities. The towns had an inherent quality of humanness to the created space. The built form responded to the climate of the region. Close-knit spaces for interaction defined the nature of the space. With the advent of the automobile and its precedence, we lost humanness in urban spaces. So, for a better future, we need to analyze the spaces and redefine them.  

The ‘Third’ and the ‘Fourth’ Place

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The fourth place alongside third places – Spaces outside a mall_©
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The fourth place alongside third places – River side development_©>.

Homes are the ‘first place‘, and the workplace the ‘second‘.  Any other place other than the first and the second makes up the ‘third place’. Public parks, shopping malls, cafes, restaurants, and open grounds form the ‘third’ place. They are spaces for relaxation and enjoyment. But the interactions cannot be forced to happen in the first, second, and third places. They may happen at any place. The spaces at the edge of a street or a public place may start a conversation. A small exchange of information may happen at the threshold of the workplace or near the home. A small square along the street or the shade of a tree may aid in an occasional congregation. Alongside the third places evolved these areas of ‘in-betweenness‘ called the ‘fourth’ places. 

Patricia Simoes

Patricia Simoes Aelbrecht is the co-founding director of the Observatory Research Center at Cardiff University. The University offers a specialization in Urban Design and International Studies. Her ideologies stemmed from her design practices in different countries. Her expertise in academia helped her with her research. Her research emphasis was on the concept of fourth place alongside the third. American Urban Sociologist Ray Oldenburg developed the thirdplace theory. Geographer and theorist Edward Soja developed the research further. Critical theorist Homi K Baba also gave a new dimension to the research. Patricia Simoes combined the spatial theories of urban design and the behavioral theories of sociology. Her research questions focussed on the study of spatial conditions and chance interactions among different age groups. The study aimed to understand the stranger-to-stranger interaction and bring out the true nature of the term public.

Thresholds and Edges

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Pedestrian and  Bicycle pathways – Representational images for developing the fourth places_©

The pattern of interaction in the fourth place exhibits a nature of spontaneity. In Asian cities, the threshold spaces of the streets in old historic cities act as the centers of activity. Raised plinths act as resting spaces. Street edges and corners will have a shop selling essentials. Street vendors occupy a shady corner. All these activities invite strangers. They also provide opportunities for chance interaction with a neighbor or an acquaintance. The thresholds and edges act as transitional spaces. The users of the space are neither exposed to the street nor hidden completely. The spaces evoke a feeling of comfort with the right amount of social conditions. 

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_Transitways and Boulevards – Representational images for developing the fourth places_©

Depending on the age of the user the patterns of interaction vary. Their comfort levels with which they use the space also vary. Depending on their comfort levels, they choose the nature of the activity to engage with. Props such as street furniture aid in the process. The location, style, and orientation of the street furniture enhance the process further. Chance interactions and forced interactions happen due to focal points along the thresholds. The nature of the stranger-to-stranger interaction defines the publicness of the space. The fourth places define the true public nature of a place. 

Nodes and Paths

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Pickup and drop off points converted to a space with vendors during particular times of the day – Representational images for developing the fourth places _©

The nodes and the paths also take on multifunctional roles. In Asian cities, they become the place for a festival procession or a public event. The nodes and the paths invite and enhance interaction. Differently designed nodes and paths aid in the process. The same pathway can turn into a multifunctional space. The space turns into an exhibition area, a music fair, or a book fair. They cater to different age groups and also people from different backgrounds. Nodes act as focal points which make people stay at a particular place for a larger period of time. Props such as the display of public artworks and play equipment add variety and liveliness enhancing social interaction. 


The concept of fourth place and its in-betweenness can also be temporal in nature. An interaction might happen due to an unplanned activity. It can also be managerial in nature. Here, there is an understanding between the public and the private realms. For example, the metro stops at the shopping mall. Research fosters a deep understanding of the stranger-to-stranger interaction. This leads to many patterns of urban design solutions. This also leads to a positive and anti-social environment. These spaces are truly public in nature. Her research on society has enhanced the true nature of the term public. It has also enhanced social inclusiveness in a pluralistic society. 

  1. Simoes Aelbrecht, P. (2016). ‘Fourth places’: the contemporary public settings for informal social interaction among strangers. Journal of Urban Design, Vol. 21 ( NO. 1),124–152. Available from: [Accessed: 21 Aug 2023].

Ar. Sandhya Parameswaran is a creative individual seeking opportunities to evolve continuously through learning and unlearning, traveling, reading, and writing. Currently working as Associate Professor with the Saveetha College of Architecture and Design (SCAD), Chennai; she is looking forward to sharing her unique and untold stories far and wide.