1. Young Man at His Window
This is just common sense: look out the window of your home or office. What do you see? You just see places. A bench, a tree, a park where people can talk and children can play, a square, a street, a building, a mural on the facade of a building, a bridge, the sun, the sky, the clouds in the sky, the sea, the atmosphere in between them… These are not just constitutive elements of a place, or they do not simply belong to places; before all, these elements are themselves places. Every single element that I have mentioned – every single material element that actually exists – is a place, or, even better: every single bit of matter that constitutes a physical element is a place – a place where certain processes occur and become manifest.
So, for instance, the red benches in Campo Bandiera Castello, a square in Venice (see Image 1 above), can be thought of as the place where clouds of electrons spin around their respective nuclei at vertiginous high speeds, as well as the place where people sit and talk to each other; in the first case, the bench would be acknowledged as the place where physical processes occur (and, if we extend our considerations to combinations of atoms, that bench would be the place of chemical processes too); while in the second case it would be the place of social processes. To tell the truth, almost any human-made object is also the place of symbolic (or intellectual) processes, given the fact that such objects have certain colours, forms, materials, etc., through which the one who creates the object also communicates certain intentions, or aesthetic values, which are symbolic or intellectual modes of communication, in the end (Image 1, above).
Again, the tree that we see when we look out the window is the place where molecules combine the energy of light and carbon dioxide to form sugars, or the place where cells duplicate all of their contents, that is: at least, that tree is the place of physicochemical and biological processes. More extensively, any tree, just like any other living being, is the place of physicochemical and biological processes. Not to mention the frequent possibility that a tree can be the house for birds, insects, or other living creatures, becoming the place where specific groups of living creatures perform their social rituals. Therefore, that tree can also be thought of as the place of social interaction – the place of social processes – for certain groups of animals. And with respect to the possibility of understanding a biological body as a place for staying or dwelling, what about the pouch of a kangaroo, the mouth of a jawfish or, more generally, the womb of a female organism? Isn’t a female human body a true place for the development of a new organism? In this case the female body would be two-times the place of biological processes: the place of her own internal biological processes (an ‘internal place’, Renee Descartes would have said), other than the place for the biological processes of other creatures (this enveloping womb would be an ‘external place’ for the guest organism, according to Descartes’s view, or – to go back in time where all discussions about place and space started – it could be an exemplification of the Aristotelian ‘topos’; moreover, if we consider the nurturing function of that which happens within that ‘envelope’, it could be considered an exemplification of the Platonic chōra).
Apart from the aforementioned cases of social processes related to particular groups of animals, social processes regard human beings as well; therefore, a park where people talk and children play can be considered the place of social processes for humans.
While the building we live in is another place – a peculiar and complex type of place -, where the entire genealogy of processes that constitute reality is displayed. So, for instance, the building where I am in, now, is the place where piles of bricks transmit physical forces down to the ground, and where windows made of transparent panes of glass allow light to enter; or, to put it another way: a building – any building – can be considered the place of physical and chemical processes regarding the way physical forces act with respect to different types of materials. This is the arena – an actual place indeed – of gravitational, electromagnetic and nuclear forces; it is the arena where materials permit or avoid the diffusion of heat, light, sounds, etc. But this is just the beginning; in fact, the aforementioned physicochemical processes are interlaced with another series of processes of a higher order: I mean physiological and psychological processes (or, in just one word, biological processes) through which human beings, or even plants and other animal forms of life, adapt to the building itself. For instance, the quantity of natural light that enters a building, as well as the colours of the walls, the quality of the materials, or the quantity of heat exchanged between bodies and materials may influence the physiological and psychological response of an individual to the building. Therefore, according to this perspective, a building should also be thought of as the place of biological processes, other than the place of physicochemical processes.
Needless to say, a building can be the home for families, that is, the home-place for the most fundamental type of social interaction: the socialization between parents and children. Moreover, a building may be the house-place for different functions that contribute to the social life of individuals and groups: schools, theatres, churches, museums, stadiums… That’s why a building, any building, can be thought of as the place of sociocultural processes – the subsequent level after physicochemical and biological processes.
Accordingly, Keith Haring’s mural on the façade of a building can be thought of as the place of symbolic or intellectual processes (then artefacts could be thought of as places through which societies convey certain sociocultural and symbolic values). Apart from the specific case of decorating buildings a posteriori, any building considered in its formal appearance – that is, its volumetric composition, form, proportions, materials, colours, etc. -, is the place where symbolic processes occur: modern dictators, as well as the ancient Roman Emperors or the Egyptian Pharaohs, knew that fact quite well. While animals can build beautiful structures and modify places even to a great extent (just consider dwellings and dams built by beavers), only men modify existing places and build new places to satisfy their symbolic needs. Only men build skyscrapers with the ultimate scope to surpass the height of another skyscraper to connote more power, more wealth, higher social status etc. To sum up: a building – or architecture in general – is the place where a stratification of physicochemical, biological, sociocultural, and symbolic (or intellectual) processes is concretized.
2. Reality Is a Constellation of Elemental Things-Place 
Since these four orders of processes – physicochemical, biological, sociocultural and symbolic processes – embrace all of the aspects of reality, the whole of reality can be thought of as a place or system: reality is the encompassing place of processes, or, more appropriately, reality is the place where those processes may concretize into physical matter, to begin with (there is a seamless continuity between place and matter). Since reality cannot be reduced to the sum of processes taken individually, but, as a whole, it is bigger than its parts (that is, it is bigger than its constituent processes), then this place – which we call reality – can also be considered in the guise of an encompassing system: any place, at any concrete level, is a system of interacting processes which may concretize into material or symbolic structures. Taken all together, these processes – and the physical or symbolic entities/structures that emerge from the actualization of these processes – make up reality as a constellation of places: places, within places, within places…
Up to now, we have said that everything that we see when we look out the window is a place. Consequently, we have said that reality itself could be considered as an all-embracing place (needless to say, the same room I am in, now – the counterpart of that which is beyond/outside the window -, is another place). But where is the threshold between what we commonly call ‘place’ – for instance parks, squares, or streets, that is, places where the specific locale or position of physical objects yield to the common notion of place as a geographical location – and what we commonly call things, objects or bodies, like a bench, a rock, a tree or even a person? More straightforwardly, when did I realize that things or bodies could be understood as real material places and not as things or bodies existing in place? I had to make a sort of reverse journey or an inverse type of reasoning with respect to the simple description of that which exists when we look outside the window. I had to ask myself: what would happen if we remove the benches from the park that I was looking at, while I was observing the scene outside my window? And then, what if we also remove the trees and the bushes? What if we remove the lawn? What if we remove the buildings around the park? And what if we remove all the buildings and the streets that surround the park? What will remain if we remove all the living beings and just a flat surface made of rocks and the sky remain? What if we extend this process of removal of things and bodies to every place? What if we remove the ground itself, and we also remove seas, oceans, the sky with its atmosphere? And, again, if we remove the sun, other than the moon? What if we also remove all the stars and the planets of any galaxy? What if any known bit of matter that composes reality, at any scale, is removed from the scene? What are we left with? What is the nature of that pristine scene? Are we left with a perfect void, a perfect no-thing, or does some place remain? This is how my accidental journey into metaphysics began. However, without even the necessity to arrive at the utmost end of this game of removal, it seemed to me that the idea of place associated to that park outside my window was dissolving as soon as the ground and the sky (the atmosphere) were removed, since no-thing would have remained for us to say that there was still a park. For me, such ‘no-thing’ equated to ‘no-place’. Hereinafter, I began to entertain the idea that a place appeared anytime a thing, body or object appeared. The idea that place and physical entities were manifestations of the same phenomenon was beginning to seep into me: the same phenomenon told by two different perspectives – one more concrete (the actual entity, thing, object or body), the other more abstract (the place as the field of localization relative to that entity, thing, object or body). So, in the end, I could logically infer that any material entity or body, the ground and the sky – in primis -, other than the lawn, the trees and the bushes, the benches, the fountains, people, etc., participated to the idea of that park-as-place. If any material entity or body participated to the compound idea of the park-as-place, I could think that any specific material entity or body was itself a thing-place which was just a part of that bigger place that I called ‘park’. Albeit very briefly, these were the basic considerations that lead me to hypothesize the fundamental identity between things and places: ultimately, I began to consider that their difference was just a question of mere opportunity related to the modes of knowledge, of understanding and describing reality (modes of communication, in the end). Between things and places, there was a linguistic and epistemological threshold, before all. But behind things and places, there is a fundamental unity: two expressions that put the focus on two different aspects – substance and localization – of the same phenomenon (apparently, another important aspect that accompanies any actual phenomenon is still missing, but we will soon introduce it).
I make another example: consider the bed in your bedroom. You probably agree with me if I say that the bed is the place where we sleep, rest, or even the place on which children can jump, play, etc. I believe we all agree if I generally say that the bed is also a thing or an object; that object can also be an object of design made by an archistar. Well, I’m simply saying that the difference between a place and an object or thing is conceptual: ultimately, any object or thing can be thought as a place: a place where certain processes occur and concretize (there is no successful outcome – actualization – of a process without the seamless appearance of place, matter and time-as-duration of the process). Then, what is the real difference between understanding a physical entity in the guise of a place or in the guise of a thing/object? What’s behind our conceptual habit and why should we look at that habit with suspicion? The subtle but – I believe – important difference is that we are used to considering physical entities as closed in themselves, finished or self-sufficient entities, something ideally cut out from the world around. But this is false, or, at least, this is certainly reductive: not only is any object intrinsically connected to the subject (the thing is the place where the union between the object and the subject is actualized – I have talked about that in the article What Is a Thing?), but, most of all (before all, properly), it is false – or reductive – since any entity is also related to other entities in virtue of an indefinite number of processes, which are behind those entities, and of which we know and realize just a small part. Without entering complicated metaphysical discourses (which are anyway the ground of my vision of the world and of my understanding of the concepts of place, space, matter, and time), take one of the glass vases represented in the figure below (Image 6): thinking about one of those vases as a place (a place in the sense that I’m going to propose in this website, that is as the concretization of a system of interconnected processes – from physical to symbolic) rather than a thing or an object per sé – an object of design in this case – obliges us to consider the different interconnected processes or moments that are related to the entire life cycle of that object: from physicochemical to symbolic processes. To begin with, in virtue of being the place of physicochemical processes, that vase should be necessarily thought of as a material substance which has certain physical and chemical properties, therefore we should consider the geological origins of the raw material with which the vase is made.
Then, with no particular order and with no particular reference to a specific vase in the image, if we understand a vase of glass as a place (where processes concretize into matter having a certain duration), we should also consider the different economic and industrial processes that are necessary for that material to be supplied, processed, transported, distributed, etc. (we can generally think about those processes in the guise of social processes, that is processes where the cooperation and the connection of the activity of many individuals is requested under different forms of collaboration). Moreover, we must consider the biological implications (biological processes) of that vase with respect to the way it is used or handled by humans: the response of its surface to touch, to sight, its weight etc., as well as the possible biological implications that the vessel can have with respect to the plant that – for instance – we have decided to put into, etc. Of course, that vase is a place of aesthetic appreciation and symbolic meanings that also intermingle with the other functional values and processes.
In a certain sense, by saying that any thing, object, or body is the place of processes, and by making an inventory of those processes (physicochemical, biological, social and symbolic processes encompass any aspect of reality), we can unveil the nature of that thing, object, or body in a less deceitful way with respect to when we understand it as a mere physical entity cut out from the context; or, to put it another way, we have more chances to understand its real nature exposing all (or many) of its implications and connections with the actual processes that are constitutive of its character (such character is the results of internal and external processes that relate the object to other objects and subjects through a myriad of processes, that may span from physical to symbolic). By understanding a thing, object, or body in the guise of place, we discover a possible way to grasp the complete nature and the meaning of that thing, object or body. In a word, we can relate with it and consider it in a more responsible way, given the fact that, by understanding a physical entity as the place of processes, we cannot forget all of the moments (that is, all of the processes) that are constitutive of the nature of that entity.
That’s how I began to entertain the hypothesis of a ‘metaphysics of place’ in dialectic relation with an ‘epistemology of place’: by means of a game of removal. Therefore, I also began to entertain the hypothesis that place was the first principle – the ancient Greeks would have said: archē (ἀρχή). A metaphysics and an epistemology of place are opportune fields of investigation for architects since they imply the elucidation of the notions of place, space, matter and time, together with the notions of subject and object, through which knowledge or experience are generated; these are basic notions for the practical and theoretical activity of the architect.
The step is short before we can imagine a specific metaphysics and epistemology for architects – as far as I know, this extended subject, whose contours I would like to delineate in this website or blog, is missing in today’s architectural academies. More generally, a philosophy for architects should not be considered as a possibility among other possibilities, but it should be a requirement for the architects of the future; the scope is to investigate the preparatory terrain for architecture and to unveil the hidden connections between architecture and reality at any level, that is: at physicochemical, biological, social and symbolic levels of inquiry, and by means of the same basic concepts – place, space, matter and time to begin with – through which philosophers and scientists investigate the phenomena of reality. We have to pass through the gates of place and space, of matter and of time (and, of course, through the correlation between the object and the subject) to answer some of the basic questions that I have briefly dealt with concerning the nature of reality, the nature of things – understood as places -, and the nature of architecture understood as one of those things-place among other things-place. Such basic questions on place and space are highly relevant questions not only for philosophers or physicists, but also for architects.
3. The Phenomenon of Place, Matter, and Time and the Concept of Space
In a previous passage, I have hinted at an important aspect that we haven’t fully introduced yet; it characterizes any phenomenon together with the abovementioned characters of ‘substantiality’ and ‘localization’: I’m speaking of the temporal character which is intrinsic to any phenomenon. Places are the positive outcome of processes and they appear to us in the guise of matter (physical structures) through a specific interval of creation and existence. Otherwise said: the positive outcome of a process (its actualization) is the co-presentation of place, matter and time (as duration – the duration of the actualized entity which is substantiated by processes). This fact implies that these three aspects of reality – place, matter and time – are inherently related, and no actual knowledge of a phenomenon can be obtained if we do not consider the intrinsic belonging of place, matter and duration to the phenomenon itself.
Then – to sum up – place and matter are the same, ultimately; their difference, being merely conceptual, has to be explained by appealing to the joint contribution of ontology and epistemology. Duration, in the guise of time, always accompanies place and matter, so that any phenomenon is inextricably characterized by ‘the what’, ‘the where’ and ‘the when’ of the actualized processes (moreover, with a process, notions of modality and causality – ‘the how’ and ‘the why’ of processes – also come into play; not to mention the partecipating agency of ‘the who‘).
What about space? The concept of space is intimately related to the concept of place. Space – which I understand not simply related to place but, more appropriately, complementary to it – is an abstract entity (an ingenious concept, properly) through which we use to represent the dimensional character of reality-as-place. Space – I mean space as a physical, or concrete, entity – does not exist. Then, the actual distance between two objects is not actually filled with space: according to the scale of observation, it is just the place of electromagnetic fields, gravitational fields, Higgs fields, invisible dust particles, gas, etc. etc. Space is a term, which we have learned to use through the centuries, to synthesize within just one word the constitutive distance that exists in-between concrete objects or places without the necessity to take into account what actually exists in-between them (air, dust particles, physical fields, etc.). At any concrete level of complexity, reality is always a plenum; that plenum is a place, not space.
Therefore, it is only at symbolic – or intellectual – levels that concepts of place and space may conflate. No blending or mixing of the two concepts is possible at the physical level without the risk of committing a fallacy of thinking. At concrete or actual levels, the concept of space should be employed – with the utmost attention to the epistemological question – and understood as a figurative concept only; space is an abstract, or ideal entity. Then the recurrent expression ‘physical space’ is just a figurative expression, an oxymoron I would say. An ambiguous expression which may cause misunderstanding if we do not put into question the nature of space critically, or if we passively accept its figurative use. We have to acknowledge the difference as well as the mutuality that exists between that which is actual (this is the realm of existence of the attribute ‘physical’, a realm of place, ultimately) and that which is ideal (this is the domain of the noun/concept ‘space’). Space is an idea and ideas are not ‘physical’: they may (or may not) comply with the physical, which is quite different.
The careful reader has already understood that within the framework that I’m delineating, the concept of time is absorbed within the concept of place by means of the duration intrinsic to any of the processes through which reality unfolds; whenever and wherever, whatever process becomes actual it appears as a concrete entity-place through the interval of duration of its originating process. This processuality describes what the term ‘implacement’ means. To put it differently: the unfolding of a process – i.e. its ‘taking place’- which may emerge and appear in the guise of energy, fields, matter/things, etc. (i.e. a phenomenon) is intrinsically bound to the duration of the process through which the phenomenon becomes actual. Therefore, place is not merely the seat of matter (or of energy, fields, things, etc.), but is the actualization of processes through which matter (or energy, fields, things, etc.) and duration co-present: it is from the actualization of such processes – from their implacement – that reality appears in the guise of situated matter within an interval of duration (duration is also what guarantees the permanence and stability of an entity – and ultimately of reality -, as well as its being transitory; that’s why matter and duration are entangled between them and with place). Physical processes do not unfold ‘in’ time, the same way they do not unfold ‘in’ or ‘through’ space: no time external to the events, or processes, out of which things appear and behave, exists. It is out of the actual duration of physical processes that occur with regularity – the sun, or the moon, rising and setting, the sand falling within an hour-glass, etc. – that we have envisioned the ordinary idea of time flowing regularly. Therefore, time, the time of the clock we all know, is merely an abstract concept, just like space is. No time and no space (or spacetime) exist as concrete entities: just places understood as the actualization of processes in the guise of situated matter (or energy, fields, objects, etc.) having a certain duration, truly exist. Substantial extension, duration and localization of the actualized entity are seamlessly entangled in place: ‘the where’, ‘the when’ and ‘the what’ of an entity – which results from ‘the why’ and ‘the how’ of certain processes – are intermeshed and interdependent forming one encompassing unity, to which a subject – ‘the who‘ -, if present, also partecipates. No division of such unitary presentation is possible out of epistemological interpretations. Moreover, with respect to the overall temporal character of reality, it is out of the original duration of a process, from which an entity emerges as a realized possibility, that other determinations of time with respect to place are possible: I’m thinking of the relations of succession between the different entities-place that constitute reality. Then, with respect to reality, duration, besides guaranteeing the permanence of an entity – or its transitory being – also enables us to understand the relations of succession between different entities.
All such fundamental questions regarding the concepts of place and space stemmed from the first rational discussions on the fundamental character of reality and the will to understand such character by reasoning and logic. There is a long continuous thread – a fil rouge – between Aristotle’s theory of place-as-topos – where elements move or rest according to their natural place -, Newton’s dynamics of bodies, moving in absolute space according to rigorous mathematical laws, and the more recent theories envisioned by Einstein, or, more recently, by quantum mechanics. That continuous thread ultimately regards the existence of matter (understood as physical body, fields, energy, etc., that is, what we generally refer to as the ‘what’ of things) and the modalities through which it exists and behaves, or, more pragmatically, ‘how’ bodies or elements persist or change their status, or position, with respect to the physical environment (this fact regards the ‘when’ and the ‘where’ of things – and it was from the ‘where’ of things that discussions on the concepts of place and space originated). Anyone of us understands that together with notions of place/space, time and matter, notions of motion, causality, force, velocity, mass, energy, immediately come into play (such notions required many centuries of sophisticated discussions before their role could be finally acknowledged and formalized). Not to mention the role of the ‘I’- subject intervening (or not?) in the process of actualization of an entity. I firmly believe that both perspectives – the scientific and the humanistic – are needed to understand such fundamental argumentations and the successive developments from which discussions over the meaning of the concepts of place and space originated; one perspective completes the other.
4. Rethinking the Concepts of Space and Place
The redefinition of the concepts through which we understand the spatial and/or ‘placial’  character of reality is an always-running historical process; each epoch expressed – and will express in future – preferences and names for describing that fundamental character: apeiron, apeiron pneuma kosmoi, kenon, chōra, topos/place, aether, spatium/space, spacetime, fields, branes, spin-foam… This website is my contribution to such basic questions and to the relation that such questions have with phenomena unfolding at different scales, from physical to more abstract levels. Therefore, for me, the fabric of reality is a description that calls for different levels of complexity to come into play, if we aim at having a unified vision of reality. I will give my interpretation of the concepts of space and place, which is based, at first, on my first-hand experience as an architect (space, place and matter are for architects what musical instruments are for musicians) and, then, on different types of readings that I went through over the years, in order to have a more critical focus – from different perspectives and scales – with respect to the architectural bias with which I first developed a technical (yet too sectorial) understanding of those concepts. Overcoming the differences – if there are any – between technical meanings and the commons sense is one of my goals in this virtual place or space.
Among the different levels, or scales, at which concepts of space and place operate, we also find levels at which architecture operates by creating imaginary spaces and by modifying concrete places for dwelling as well. In fact, architecture is a type of knowledge comprised of abstract creative, ideal or mental processes, which exploit the symbolic domain of space (or of imaginary places), and concrete phenomena which occur in the realm of physical, actual places. Then, architecture is a choral discipline, which is intrinsically comprised between space and place.
As soon as I will finish to illustrate more precisely my reformed understanding of place and space, I will dedicate my efforts to investigate the complex influence that those concepts have on architecture through the agency of physicochemical, biological, social and intellectual – or symbolic – processes. A long-range project indeed, which has some distinguished precedents, but which is not pursued very often by architects. 
 I have used the expression ‘elemental things-place’ with a similar intent and meaning used by the American philosopher Edward S. Casey, in the book Getting Back into Place, in the following expression: ‘Take a mountain: is it a thing or a place? It is an elemental thing-place’. Edward S. Casey, Getting Back into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993), 216.
 I’m writing these notes some years after the period in which I was making this consideration for the first time. I don’t think Aristotle’s theory of place or Descartes’s distinction between internal and external place had some influence on my thoughts, at that time. I began to be interested in metaphysical or ontological and epistemological questions of place and space in consequence of the naïve considerations resulting from my own personal experience and logic, and not the other way around. I arrived at the core questions of philosophy (and physics) studying the thought of philosophers to give some structure to those personal intuitions that any curious mind or person can have, independently of their education; philosophy and physics – or better, the history of philosophical and scientific thought – played almost no conscious role at all on my intuitions about reality understood as ‘place’. I became acquainted with the thinking of philosophers and scientists as soon as I realized that I unconsciously entered the domain of metaphysics, or ontology, and epistemology. As I had the occasion to say somewhere else, at the beginning, I had no interest in philosophy, physics or in any other discipline external to architecture for the sake of those ‘external’ disciplines; in the beginnings, I was only interested in architecture and when I understood that by starting from simple and sincere architectural thoughts on space and place I was questioning the same fundamental facts of reality that philosophers or theoretical physicists usually question, I felt compelled to embrace the study of what other scholars, outside of my disciplinary field, said on the argument before me. My ultimate focus remains architecture, and, specifically, the relations between architecture, humanistic and scientific perspectives on questions of place and space.
 According to this perspective, space would be an abstract idea, at the origin of which we find the notion of dimensionality/extension: so, to begin with, we could understand space as mono-dimensional or two-dimensional extension (I believe this was especially the way it was understood before the modern times), as well as three-dimensional, tetra-dimensional (this is actually spacetime), or n-dimensional abstract extension (this would be the case of the extra dimensions needed by string or superstring theories, just to name few examples of new physical theories that aim at expanding our knowledge of reality attributing new meanings – and dimensions – to the concept of space).
 For a technical explanation of the term ‘implacement’ as used by the American philosopher Edward S. Casey, see note 10 in my article Preliminary Notes.
 As in the case of the term implacement, I have taken the term ‘placial’ from Edward S. Casey. Its coinage, as Casey intuited before others, is a necessity since it extends and includes the meaning of the term ‘local’ which is usually used as an attribute of place; that classic attribute – local – is now too narrow in meaning with respect to the extended sense of place that we are proposing.
 Two notable architects and theorists who, in different periods and with different approaches and results (one more abstract and focused on space, the other more concrete and focused on place), have dealt with the issues I’m dealing with, were Richard Buckminster Fuller and Christopher Alexander. For both authors, conceptualizations of space (Buckminster Fuller) and place (Alexander) with respect to Architecture and Society played an important role.
Casey, Edward S. Getting Back into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.
—. The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.