Real Spaces – Defining Place

If places unite groups, they exclude as well as include, and are therefore also fundamental to the institutionalization of difference among groups.

David Summers Real Spaces (2003)

Places are not just geographical places or coordinates on a map. They are the spaces in which people are included, and excluded through the purposeful design of the place. In Real Spaces (pp. 117 to 200) David Summers explores the architectural features that promote the inclusion of members of a community and that purposefully exclude. Place by its very nature others; sets people aside.

Places are defined. The are set aside. For a place to exist, there must be a boundary created that defines what is included in the place and what is outside. To create a boundary is a human endeavour that requires the purposeful delineation of the environment through the manufacture of a border. The border needs to be distinguished in someway. Boundaries are shaped by human hands and can be very simple, such as white picket fence, or more complex and monumental, such as the Great Wall of China.

The Great Wall of China (image from Wikipedia)

Often the boundary requires some act of making special, through the arrangement, shaping, erecting, and refining of materials. There is a definite difference in the quality of the material that makes it stand out from what can be seen and / or experienced nature. The purpose of this manufacture is to create permanence and an object that is resistant to change, speaking to the power and influence of those that belong to a place.

Within the boundaries of a place there is the centre, which can be physically located, but also commands an understanding of the symbolism of the place as well. At the centre of a place are those that have the most social influence within the community. As you progress from the centre to the peripheries, the value of inclusion declines. Those at the centre are most important and those near the borders have less influence (although they technically all belong to a place). The organization of a place creates relationships and defines the hierarchical structure of the people who live or work within the boundaries of a given community. The principe of the centre provides distinction for those that are within the boundary (where as the boundary provides a distinction between those that are included v. excluded).

Centres can be political, social or religious and will often dictate the interactions of the people within a place. If the place is political, for example, the principles of those that reside in the centre are of a different nature than those if they were religious. The two may not necessarily be mutually exclusive, but their perspective can provide for a significant difference in terms of how people think and act within the community.

Guiding Questions:

  • What are common places that inspire you? How are they ‘set aside’ from the rest of the world to make them unique places?
  • Who is included and excluded from the places you go?
  • How does the organization of the place (i.e. the relationship between the centre and the boundary) create the social and emotional dynamics at play within the communities in which you participate?
  • Do you influence the place in which you live or does the place influence in which you reside influence how you live?

Featured Image from the Ontario Archives.

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