The Third Place


In the world of Architecture and Interior Design function, aesthetics, comfort, and accessibility take high precedent when creating livable spaces. However, there is another aspect that designers take into consideration that influences your experience within a space: Third Place Theory. Ray Oldenburg, the sociologist who explored this idea in his book “The Great Good Place” explains this theory and how it plays such a vital role in Architecture and Interior Design.

Understanding Third Place Theory

A Third Place is a space for people to gather and interact with their community that is different from their Home or Workspace. Your home is considered your First Place and your workplace/school is considered your Second Place. Oldenburg emphasizes that beyond these two places exists your Third Place. Your Third Place plays a crucial role in community cohesion and having that sense of belonging.

As people are now working remotely and with hybrid schedules, the line between their First and Second place are beginning to blur. This brings out the importance of having a space to separate from the two and connect with others. These spaces allow for people to gather, socialize, and unwind.

Third Places expose you to a wide variety of people from different backgrounds and your neighbors at the same time. Examples include libraries, community centers, local restaurants / bars, breweries / wineries, sports facilities, etc. They are identified by their ability to accommodate diverse social interactions. As architects and interior designers, we are tasked with helping facilitate new, exciting interactions for the public.

This idea of a Third Place is familiar to many because it is frequently shown in televisions. Examples include Central Perk Coffee Shop from Friends, Cheers! Bar from Cheers, the Crown and Anchor Pub from Ted Lasso.

As architects and interior designers, we are tasked with helping facilitate new, exciting interactions for the public.

10 Functions of Third Place According to Ray Oldenburg

1. Promoting Democracy
Where everyone who enters are equals.

2. Neighborhood Unity
Provides a local space to meet and bond with neighbors.

3. Multiple Friendships
Neutral ground to meet with various groups of friends.

4. Spiritual Tonic
Frequent socializing in public spheres help promote happiness within a person.

5. Staging Area
A destination for people to gather in times of disaster and need to help others.

6. Generation of Social Capital
History shows when people of different skills & interests connect it supports economic growth.

7. Lower Cost of Living
When a person needs help with a job or living situation it is often easier to ask from an acquaintance versus family or close friends. A Third Place promotes these types of relationships & provides the opportunities to ask for help.

8. Enhanced Retirement
Providing a space for those who have retired to socialize and need a place to go.

9. Development of the Individual
An individual who meets new people with different backgrounds, interests, knowledge, socioeconomic status and viewpoints, creates a more well-rounded individual and thus allows them to gain the ability to get along with each other.

10. Intellectual Forum
A space to discuss current topics frequently and informally which allows for immediate feedback from their community.

These functions can be applied by Architects and Interior Designers while designing Third Place spaces.

Applying Third Place Theory to Interior Design

Comfortable Seating Arrangements

It is a designer’s job to create spaces that facilitate both intimate conversations and group interactions. This can be achieved by choosing versatile seating options to support diverse preferences. In public spaces designers pay careful attention not only to the specific type of furniture being chosen but the layout of the furniture as well. There has to be a mix of comfortable soft seating with productive task seating as well as collaborative clusters and then more intimate private seating options.

Welcoming Atmosphere

Third places should make individuals feel relaxed and at ease. Through the use of warm lighting, natural elements/motifs, and inviting colors this can be achieved. Designers use wayfinding as another means of creating a welcoming familiar atmosphere. Wayfinding is all the different ways in which people orient themselves in a space and navigate from place to place.

Flexibility and Adaptability

Third places should be able to facilitate multiple different events or functions. This allows for the community to connect multiple activities to this place enhancing their connection with the space itself. It should be able to adapt to the needs of the user/community, hosting events from community gatherings to art exhibitions.

Integration of Technology

Without overpowering Human interactions, incorporating specific technology can help elevate the Third Place. Technology such as charging stations and interactive displays can foster diverse interactions and events, allowing the space to be used for many different purposes and fosters a longer stay.

Spatial Layout

The spatial layout of third places should foster a sense of community and encourage interaction among people. This often means creating open, flexible spaces that can accommodate different activities and group sizes, while also providing areas for privacy.

Incorporation of Nature

Integrating elements of nature into third places can enhance the overall experience and well-being of visitors. This can include incorporating natural light, indoor plants, greenery, and outdoor spaces such as gardens or courtyards. Nature can help create calming and inviting atmosphere that encourages people to linger and connect with others.

Accessibility and Inclusivity

Third places should be designed to be accessible to people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. This means considering factors such as wheelchair accessibility, signage for visually impaired individuals, and seating options for people with different mobility needs. Creating a welcoming and inclusive environment ensures that everyone feels comfortable and valued in the space.

Sustainable Practices

Incorporating sustainable practices into the design and operation of third places is essential for minimizing environmental impact and promoting long-term viability. This can include using eco-friendly materials, implementing energy-efficient systems, reducing waste through recycling and composting programs, and sourcing locally produced goods. By prioritizing sustainability, third places can contribute to the well-being of both people and the planet