What binds us to a place? Neighborhood food, the aroma from someone’s kitchen, materials and structures, and many a time the kind of feeling one had during his last visit. But what truly connects us to a place, is the sense of identity – how well one identifies with space and creates an autobiography from the memories he shaped there. Moreover, these bonds influence the development of a place because as designers manipulating spaces, we have an immense role to curate the impressions one gets of a space.

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Life, Place, and Buildings ©Gehl Architects

But first things first – how do one perceive a space that they come across for the very first time? Our brains play the trick and build navigation for the ‘mental’ map. For example, if we are to visit an office space that we have never been before, but we would already have a particular office typology that we wish to work in; minimalistic or colorful, wooden furniture, or probably large glass windows. But whatever it is, our brains play the trick to ensure how we feel about it. But if it is the job of the brain, what do we do to shape it differently? We play a little game of manipulation with our brain – let the form be decided by its function.

The creation of spaces is guided by its unique attributes concerning its physical and human characteristics. For example, the renowned house, Fallingwater by architect Frank Lloyd Wright is an outstanding structure to depict how physical characteristics guide the sense of place. The waterfall binds the modern building to its surroundings and reinstates a sense of belongingness to the woods. Similarly, when we refer to human characteristics, the dominating feature is that of human scale. A space built for human-centric uses must be by the understanding of the human scale. For example, a large open square for public gatherings without any seating or structures shall instill a sense of loneliness among people because of the vastness.

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Spaces for people, amidst people ©Illustration by Yime

People inhabit several places simultaneously – therefore, a useful way to build a better understanding of places is to create individual activity spaces. For most people, however, their understanding of spaces is limited to their daily activities, limiting the nodes of their social networks and thus creating a lesser impact on their perception of spaces. Thus, one may say that our social circles and interaction with humans and structures shape our belongingness. A ‘sense of place’ stems from our idea of its history, geography, and its direct impact on our lives.

But what do people essentially ‘read’ to build this perception about spaces? Physical features play a crucial role in guiding one through its design and attach oneself to the built environment. Even though community and place are essentially different, yet space is made lively by the community thriving in it. Community is the fundamental feature of perceiving spaces and what we call in modern architecture, planning, and design as ‘place-making’. The ground-breaking idea for creating lively neighborhoods and instilling restoring cultural values within cities was curated by Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte.

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What is a Great Place? ©Project for Public Spaces

The core value of place-making is to inspire people to reimagine public spaces as the heart of communities by strengthening the relationship of the people with the places they share. Community participation forms a driving force of the place-making process because place-making is beyond urban design, architecture, and creative use of spaces. It is about supporting the evolution of spaces that can create unique physical, cultural and social identities. Involving the local communities not only makes the design process easier but it also results in the more responsible use of spaces. People feel that their needs and aspirations are looked into and can avoid the over-capping of public resources.

The key attributes that help in building a place better are sociability, uses, and activities, access and linkages, and comfort and image. The best example of place-making in India is Bengaluru where the process of place-making has been successfully implemented in the Church Street area – which now acts as a hub for various social, cultural, and economic activities ranging from markets and restaurants to street activities and weekend busking sessions! Space is not measured just by its physical features; it’s the ability to garner the needs as a community resource surpasses the form and function of the space.

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Space and its use by the community ©Project for Public Spaces

People perceive spaces differently because each of our minds is shaped differently. But as designers, we hold the power to guide these feelings and build an intimate relationship between the space and its people. Function and form guide us at the initial design process, but what space serves to its people can only be understood by dialogue and conversation. It is the people that we create spaces for; it is these communities that we must build better for.

Sayani Mandal
Author

Currently pursuing her major in urban planning, she believes that design and literature are two paradigms which can alter the overall outlook of the world when backed by practical data.

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