Creating places not spaces: 6 qualities to a great place

30 Jan, 2016 Blog, Design Tips

At the end of the day you go ‘HOME’, you don’t go ‘HOUSE’

Your home has a presence and a connection with you, a special place of unique character, it embodies a collection of elements and features that make it distinctive for you. It evokes emotions. It holds memories and stories. It is not just a building that exists, it is part of you. Therein lies the distinctive difference between a space and a place.

A space can be anywhere, even if it has been designed. We are surrounded by spaces, just like houses without character or soul. But a Place – that’s something special. Public spaces that evoke emotion, spaces that are inviting and encourage human interaction, spaces where memories are made, where stories are laid – these spaces are Places. They are designed for people.

So what makes up a great place?

There is a lot written today about “place making”, there are now specialist “place making” consultants offering services to ensure your project is a special people place rather than lifeless spaces. In fact there are so many definitions of place making floating around, new buzz words like “tactical urbanism” and “pop-up”, combined with strategies on “community activation”, there is a danger that we are making the design of people places much more complicated than it needs to be.

Great Places will foster Great Communities

Great places attract people. People that are brought together in a place tend to connect with each other in engaging ways. People interacting and engaging with each other build stronger, healthier communities.

Therefore the key to creating Great Places is to plan, design and manage public spaces with a Focus on People. To do this you must understand people’s Needs and Aspirations. People who will live, work and play in the places you create. There are many techniques to connect with Community and capture their aspirations and needs, but once completed these form the basis of your Common Vision for that place.

For many Clients (private and public), once the last construction fence comes down and the place is open to the community, the vision is forgotten or lost, but in reality this is just the beginning. The vision must evolve into an activation strategy,  a process that fosters the creation of vital public destinations, these are places where people feel a strong sense of belonging in their communities and a feeling of ownership. The making of a Great Place starts with collaborative planning and design, but does not stop once the community asset is delivered.

Here are 6 qualities that all Great Places tend to have in common:

1. Access and Connection

Great places are connected to their setting both visually and physically – they belong where they are and have relevance to the location.  A great public space is legible, easy to get to and promotes a sense of journey. Physical elements in a place can affect journey (a continuous row of shops or a flowering arbour along a street is more engaging, more comfortable and safer to walk by than a blank facade or vacant block), as can views and vistas (the ability to see a public space from a distance adds legibility). Remember that people travel to great public places in various ways (car, bicycle, on foot, pram, bus, train, even boat), accommodating for a variety of connections makes for great places.

2. Comfort and Amenity

People’s perceptions about safety, cleanliness, and quality of facilities are fundamental to whether a place will be used. Great places have a variety of spaces with varying scales, that are comfortable to use (natural & structured shade, ample seating, close to amenities, appropriate facilities) offering people choice. Spaces that are visually connected, close to activity promote a greater sense of safety and passive surveillance rather than spaces and pathways that are hidden and out of general view.

3. Vibrant and Active

Places are more vibrant and active when there is friendly social interaction, community events and activities for people to engage in a place. From small family activities (birthday parties in the park) to curated free public concerts or community fireworks, these are what motivate people come in the first place and why they will return. Activities also make a place special or unique, which, in turn, help generate community pride. Great places allow for all these activities to occur, whether purpose built or designed for flexibility.

4. Identity and Personality

All great places are easily identifiable. There is a distinct character or signature that people understand and draw connection. Sometimes this can be fabricated (like the Eiffel Tower) or as we prefer, it can have a strong relationship back to the site through reference to its natural assets, or cultural past and history. We often say great places are “born from the site”.

5. Harmonious

Often a difficult quality to get right, done well, you will hardly notice it, but done badly it will feel awkward and uncomfortable. Great places have a sense of unity, all elements, all experiences, all aspects working in harmony with a common identity and personality. Harmonious places provide a sense of ease for people who use them and offers a sense of comfort that draws them back.

6. Sociable and Friendly

One of the most distinctive qualities of a great place is social interaction. A place where friends and family meet, neighbours stop for a chat or strangers feel at ease to say hello and share a moment, these places are proven to foster a greater sense of community and therefore a greater connection to the place in which these interactions and experiences occur.

We believe that the creation of Great Places should be simple. The creation of successful public places should focus on People. So if you remember nothing else, remember this, one of our favorite quotes from Frank Chimero

“people ignore design that ignores people”


Vee Design