Places > Spaces






1. a continuous area or expanse that is free, available, or unoccupied.

2. the dimensions of height, depth, and width within which all things exist and move.


Creative minds work in many ways and utilize different types up media to communicate their ideas and exercise their influence over the world. Painters work with oils and pigments on various surfaces. Sculptors work with stone, plaster, metal and other solid materials to craft their vision. The medium of Architecture, though forged in brick and mortar, is ultimately space. We study it, we craft it, we mold it, push it, pull it, squeeze it and creatively manipulate it into a form that best suits the needs of the intended user(s). We strive to harness an infinitely chaotic and complex medium and make it useful...and we're good at it. Still, though space is a malleable substance that can be trained to do our bidding, it can never be made.  It existed before us and will exist long after we are gone.   

Architects claim space as their own.  It is the realm in which we operate and it is the medium over which we claim ownership.  But let's face it - anyone can work with space. From the do-it-your-selfers fueled with an endless supply of Pinterest thumbnails to the suburban weekend warriors tearing up their back yards on Saturday afternoons - everyone is playing with space. Many do a nice job in improving the environments they share with their families, their friends and their coworkers.  No harm, no foul.  All good.  Right?

It's hard to argue that 'improving' something could be a bad thing - and we don't. It's a great thing. What's troubling to us about all of these well-intentioned efforts, however, is that the lens through which the layperson looks at their design challenge is too strong.  People tend to zoom in too closely and fail to see the larger picture.  The questions they ask are often too small and too narrow in scope.  Their questions focus on space and how it can be changed to better suit their needs.  How can I make my kitchen bigger?  How can I fit more employees into my office space?  How can I make my space more beautiful?  They only ask questions about space.

Photo by Jay Mantri

Photo by Jay Mantri




1. the role played by or importance attached to someone or something in a particular context.


What people should be asking are questions about place.  How does what I'm doing affect the other areas of my home, my business and the public spaces I share with others?  How will it reinforce - and be reinforced by - the elements surrounding it?  How will it interact with the sun, wind, trees and all the other elements of the natural environment?  Most importantly, how will it facilitate stronger interactions between the people who use the space?  How will what I do grow to become a lasting staple in people's memories?  These questions and many more meaningful inquiries of this sort underscore what we feel is the most important distinction between the basis of our work at Ellipsis and the work of the casual designer - we design places, not spaces.

Although they can be beautiful, functional, and can play a positive role in our lives, spaces lack soul and inspire no memory.  Places aspire to be more.  They are the images conjured in our brains when a familiar smell passes under our noses or a song transplants us to a nostalgic time on our lives.  They are the stage sets for the laughter of our friends and the tearful memories of our heartbreak.  Places are real.  They are the things that resonate in our souls and conjure up true emotion.  Places promote stronger bonds between families, friends and collaborators. They bind us deeply to our global culture and inspire us to think beyond the nuances of our individual lives.  They give more to us than spaces can give and they ask for more in return.

Placemaking Chicago defines Placemaking  as "a people-centered approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Put simply, it involves looking at, listening to, and asking questions of the people who live, work and play in a particular space, to discover needs and aspirations. This information is then used to create a common vision for that place. The vision can evolve quickly into an implementation strategy, beginning with small-scale, do-able improvements that can immediately bring benefits to public spaces and the people who use them." Many other definitions of this term focus on the public realm and for good reason; we share this world with each other. We are all stakeholders in our shared experience. Because we are all so different from one another, it is clear that more thoughtful and intelligent design strategies are needed to ensure that the places we create are a more robust embodiment of our culture and brainchildren of all of us.  These places should bring us together, facilitate open chains of communication and help to bridge the gaps that exist all around us. In the public realm, our focus must at once be wide and narrow.  While maintaining an acute attention to the local design challenges, we must be ever-mindful of the role that the changes we make to the world play on the larger stage of our world.

Placemaking is not limited, however, to the larger, public realm.  It is simply a mindset that expands the challenge of design beyond the localized task at hand.  It remains just as important in the design of one's home as it does at a larger scale.  How parents interact with their children, for example, is one of the most important things in most of our lives. How can we create and maintain strong bonds with our children? What can we do to create the richest possible 'place' for their childhood? Many of us still long for the comfort of our childhood homes.  When we visit our parents, we smile at the door jamb which still bears pencil marks from our mothers recording our heights from various ages.  We sprawl out on the same floor we did as a child to wrap Christmas presents.  We throw the ball to our brother across the kitchen while Mom yells at us to knock it off, just like she has done every year we can remember. We smile because we are in a place - a moment honed by memory, a thoughtfully-crafted physical environment, sensory experience and, most importantly, the people we love.  And, while Architects can not control all of the intricacies of the interactions between families, we can play a very meaningful role in setting the stage for how people relate to each other in their shared spaces.  We can ease the complexities of daily life by crafting environments that cater to the specific needs of those who use them - facilitating encounters, organizing, cutting out inefficiency and saving people time to focus on what matters - their relationships with themselves, their families and their friends.