I was working on the previous article concerning Heidegger and the Thing when the radio I usually listen to in the background begun to playing Billy Idol’s notorious hit, Flesh for Fantasy. This song was one of my favourites in the mid-80s, so I pumped up the volume a little bit and I enjoyed its sound for a couple of minutes, just before the volume began to fade and the radio speaker has begun to speak over the song — Urgh! So, I turned down the volume again, and I came back to my things, minimizing the ‘bla bla bla…’ of the radio speaker. However, in the midst of that ‘bla bla bla…’, I also caught the following words: ‘urban spaces… bla bla bla… tactical urbanism in Milano’. Given that I’m almost totally absorbed by my research on space and place, every time I hear someone pronouncing those words my mind enters in a state of alert to understand the ways, circumstances and contexts people use those terms. Then, I took a break again from Heidegger and the Thing, and I began to pay attention to the radio-speaker: ‘… bla bla bla… smart solutions aiming at improving the quality of urban spaces with small actions… painting benches, colouring streets, planting flowers…’ — I was taking note. Until that moment I had never heard of the term ‘tactical urbanism’. However, after an immediate internet search, I soon realized that I had already encountered the results of that urban planning practice when, just a couple of days before, it happened me to cross Piazza Angilberto II, in Milano, which is a square not too far from where I live, and which I did not exactly remember as one of the most attracting places or squares in the city.
Despite the new restyling, I was not particularly impressed by that example of tactical urbanism. Anyway, contrarily to many anonymous squares that you find in the outskirts, the new design somehow attracted my attention. I remember I was thinking something like this: ‘In a city clogged with traffic, every square metre of a street subtracted to cars and given to pedestrian is a good option…’. Yet, soon, my realism took me to consider that subtracting space to cars in favour of pedestrians is a good practice ‘… provided a systemic analysis of the place is taken into account’. Of course, this consideration about the systemic analysis of a place needs a lot to be elucidated; however, the analysis of systems and their relation with places is not the main topic of this post. The episode of the radio speaker offered me the hint for the present article, which is about what I consider an inappropriate use of expressions like ‘urban space’, ‘public space’, and the likes when they are referred to the built environment or to real situations (real in the sense of that which is actual and/or concrete), and when the intrinsically-abstract dimensional connotation of space is secondary to other concrete connotations that are better expressed via the term place. One for all: I consider the expression ‘physical space’ a misleading expression — the mother of all misunderstandings concerning our spatial (or placial?) understanding of reality. More generally, I’m speaking of those situations that can be traced back to the real world and its concrete phenomena, ultimately. The question is subtle and may be easily overlooked, but I believe it is important to understand the meanings of space and place beyond their use as unclarified notions. Here, the point is to overcome the traditional linguistic habit that we have inherited from the recent past (it is a recent past — I consider it a Newtonian legacy, in the end — if we consider the millennial histories of the two concepts), and to see how a reformed understanding of those notions, can be beneficial, not just for specific disciplines like urban planning or architecture, but, more generally, for our understanding of the spatial and placial characters of reality. Therefore, the question concerning the choice of the appropriate term — space or place? — to describe certain situations is not merely a linguistic choice between cognate terms: it concerns the different possibilities of interpreting phenomena of reality associated with those terms. According to its original designation, the term space subtends a sheer dimensional interpretation of reality, which is anyway a reductive interpretation, and which offers little insight into the complex phenomena that such space is said to convey. Conversely, the term place — at least, the kind of encompassing notion that I’m arguing for in these virtual pages —, offers a more encompassing interpretation of reality, since behind the term ‘place’ there are dimensional (both physical and temporal extension), situational (local and global: place may have different levels of magnification, so that my bed is a place, as well as the house that contains it, or the district that contains my house, and so on, in the compass between micro and macro phenomena) and material values (given that things are places, the materiality that is intrinsic or subtends — sub-stance — things is, in all respects, the materiality of place) that we always should keep in mind whenever we are requested to describe, analyse or intervene on real situations. To those who sustain that ‘space’ can transcend its original dimensional character and be the vessel of actualized processes, I simply say that they are probably overlooking the epistemological and ontological differences between space and place, other than their histories and linguistic origins (for me, linguistic analysis and historical reviews were requirements before I could finally give an order to the epistemological chaos generated by the millennial debate on different spatial notions — see the articles Back to the Origins of Space and Place for a linguistic analysis of space and place, Place and Space: A Philosophical History, Space and Place: A Scientific History – Part I and Part II for their historical review). From a linguistic and historical perspective, we have already seen that space emerged as a term concerned with ‘dimensionality’, in the sense of distance or extension referred to something concrete (the English term ‘space’ comes from the Greek Doric and Aeolic term spadion — stadion is the Attic form, which became a literary standard in the classical period — via the Latin spacium; originally, that Greek term represented the distance which a yoke of oxen could drag, and a man could steer, the plough without a rest; later, it was adopted as a unit of measurement that also identified a footrace or even the physical building — Stadion — were the footrace was held). To describe reality as a sheer dimensional fact in abstraction from what concretely supports that dimensionality, is to neglect the overall essence of reality; this can be appropriate if we exclusively want to refer to reality as a dimensional fact. But we should be conscious that in reality there is no such thing as ‘dimensionality’, in the sense of physical extension, detached from temporality and materiality of the concrete entity to which extension is seamlessly associated. ‘Space’ entails a reduction of reality we are rarely conscious about; a reduction of reality from place to space, ultimately. And — I repeat since this is decisive and it is what many scholars from different disciplines sustain — if we believe that space can transcend its dimensional character and be the adequate vessel of actualized processes (physical, chemical, biological, ecological, social, economic, political, etc. etc) we should be speaking of place, not of space.
‘Flesh! Flesh for fantasy’, the refrain of the song in the above-mentioned episode; ‘urban spaces’, the argument of the radio-speaker. Linguistically, I believe we could consider both expressions as two oxymorons: what is more concrete than ‘flesh’ and the ‘city’ (‘urban’, from the Latin ‘urbs’, city)? Conversely, what is more aleatory, ethereal, or abstract than ‘fantasy’ and ‘space’? If we intend ‘flesh for fantasy’ as a metaphor, then urban spaces are flesh for fantasy, literally. That is to say: urban spaces exist as abstractions in the mind of people (for me, space is a state of mind or, better, a state concocted by the mind, to begin with); in reality — I mean in actuality or concreteness —, those spaces that people usually call ‘urban spaces’, or even ‘public spaces’, are, in most cases, places: urban or public places, properly. Of course, things are not always as easy as we describe them. Here there is an intrinsic difficulty, or a fundamental ambiguity (through the expression ‘fundamental ambiguity’, I mean the formal possibility to use both expressions — ‘urban spaces’ and ‘urban places’ — to define the same circumstance). What is at stake, here, with those expressions, is the possible correlation between two different realms: the realm of concrete or actual things (‘flesh’ and ‘city’ via the attribute ‘urban’), and the realm of abstract or ideal things and/or concepts (‘space’ and ‘fantasy’ — taking for granted what, for many people, is still a matter of debate: the abstractness of space). As I’ve often said, there are concrete implications, in the different possibility to handle complex phenomena of reality, behind what seems a mere choice between cognate terms — place or space — to describe certain situations. The learned man knows that it is difficult, if not hazardous, to sustain, like I do, that ‘flesh’ and ‘space’, in conjunction, one next to the other, constitute an oxymoron; in fact, apart from classical physics, if we think about the important theoretical contributes of Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and many other phenomenological authors, talks about ‘physical space’, ‘material space’, ‘concrete space’, ‘living space’, etc. are usual, since phenomenologists sustain that corporality and materiality of the lived body are inextricably entangled with the physicality/materiality/concreteness of space. Without beating about the bush (that is, without resorting to a posteriori criticism concerning the figurative use of certain spatial expression), the orthodox phenomenologist deals with space as a real entity, in the sense of physical, which is a conception I reject, now.  That being said, I’m not certainly questioning the overall validity of such a prolific mode of thinking, phenomenology, for what I consider an ambiguous use of spatial terminology, at the present time; I’m simply arguing that we should consider phenomenology and the spatial terminology it relies on, according to the specific epoch it was produced and consider that concepts of space and place are subject to critics and shifts of meaning so that the present-day understanding of space and place can be different with respect to the time Husserl and his immediate disciples proposed their theories (the same holds for time and matter, which are connected notions). At this respect, the case of physics, with the passage from absolute space to relative spacetime and to the field concept, is illuminating to give you an idea of the changes of spatial terminology necessary to give a more fundamental framework to the explanation of physical phenomena; and physical theories certainly contribute to those shifts of meaning concerning spatial concepts. As far as I know, and as far as I understand phenomenology and the correspondent spatial vocabulary used by its acolytes, it seems to me that in a historical period influenced by outbreaking physical theories that dismissed the traditional meanings associated to the ordinary spatial concepts (i.e. Einstein’s relativity and Quantum mechanics), Heidegger was among the first philosophers to have understood that the ‘spatial frame’ for describing happenings in the real world was better conveyed by the concept of place rather than by the concept ‘physical space’; that’s why, in the end, Heidegger says that space is subordinated to place. And that’s why the spatiality Heidegger refers to — I’m especially referring to his later writings — is more concerned with place and with the intrinsic placiality of physical entities and Being (Dasein), rather than with space, whose fundamentally-abstract and limiting meaning is always there (‘limiting’ with respect to the possibility of investigating the encompassing reality of any phenomena). Among those contemporary scholars who work in the field of phenomenology and clearly understood the shifting value of spatial terminology and successfully applied it to phenomenological studies, we find Edward Casey: for me, his writings successfully overcome the many linguistic spatial shortcomings that other scholars fall into. I say this because, from digital discussions that I had in the recent past with some scholars having a strong phenomenological background, I understood that there is a large group of phenomenologists who walk on the wire of ambiguity maintaining that space is a figurative concept (this is quite common for the learned man, even outside of phenomenological circles), so that, they often use phraseology like ‘physical space’, ‘material space’, ‘concrete space’, ‘outer/exterior space’, ‘bodily space’, ‘living space’ and many similar expressions that entail space is a physical entity (a thing present-at-hand, to use Heidegger’s terminology); but when asked directly about the physical/material/concrete/bodily/etc. nature of such space — what such ‘physicality’ consist of, ultimately — they say that such physicality is nominal or figurative that is, they say that dimensionality is abstract per se — that’s why space is a figurative concept. This is a thing that I also sustain, yet I do that without the necessity to rely on expressions like ‘physical space’, ‘material space’ or even simply ‘space’ in those contexts where the term place could be more appropriate, or a more realistic choice to define certain categories of phenomena. Of course, there are many circumstances in which we cannot help but use the term space, especially day-life situations, as when, for example, at the restaurant, I ask my friend to move a little bit his chair so that I can put my chair between his chair and the chair of the other person so that we can have a talk face to face; that ‘between’, that interval or distance is what we usually call ‘space’ or ‘physical space’. This use of the term space is in accordance with its original dimensional meaning (in the sense of distance between concrete entities or measure of a concrete entity); there are no possibilities of misunderstanding, and there are no ‘hidden phenomena’ behind that ‘between’. This is always the case when we exclusively intend to refer to the spaciousness of certain real situations, just like, for instance, the urban configuration similar to the one that you see in the image below (Image 2): ‘Look at how huge this space is!’, I said to my collaborator to describe the remarkable extension of an almost dismissed urban area in Milano we were visiting. My intent was univocal: to communicate the spatial extension of that area — length, width, and depth. However, if we are interested in the complex dynamics that insist on that urban area apart from or in addition to its spaciousness (physicochemical, biological, ecological, social, cultural, and symbolic narratives overlap in any urban territory) the architect should be better describe that area as a place, not as space or a non-place, which is another expression to be taken with a grain of salt by the architect, urban planner, social scientist or political decision-maker, who must understand any territory — that is any place — within a global systemic perspective, and not in bits and pieces.
In the examples I have mentioned, it is as if space is simultaneously concrete and abstract: strictly speaking, in such common situations where space is intended in the sense of extension or distance, as well as in many other examples taken from day-life situations, space is an abstract term used to describe concrete situations without possibility of misunderstanding. But when circumstances require architects, planners, physicists, philosophers, geographers, anthropologists, politicians, etc. a careful analysis of phenomena beyond their dimensional character, ‘things’ are not always that easy, and the choice of the term we use can influence our mode of interpreting the complex phenomena of reality and the way we modify that reality. The intimate correlation between the concrete and the abstract nature of space, which we have just considered, is something that I advocate for from the opposite perspective of place: in fact, if we could intend space as physical dimensionality (or extensivity) that is intrinsic to any place, at the same time, we should associate to place the other characters — materiality, locality, and temporality — that are seamlessly associated to such dimensionality intended as a physical extension. So, we come back to the main difference between space and place: it is place that can be concrete as well as abstract — it is place that emerges as a concrete entity in the realm of concrete phenomena, and can also develop into more abstract forms, within symbolic or intellectual realms; correlate to place there is space, which is an abstract concept (I mean the three-dimensional containing entity which is a mathematically based construct, to begin with) that emerges, at symbolic or intellectual levels, from the concreteness of place (thus, there can be no space without a prior place). In no way can space be physical, literally. And I suspect that the continuous appeal to space as a figurative concept leads to the same erroneous consequences of understanding space as a physical entity, which is a known fallacy that has concrete negative consequences (that suspicion is a certainty if I remain within my direct field of competence, architecture; that certainty gave me the input for investigating other disciplines to see if there was a similar trend, and the answer I gave was affirmative; this is the main reason why I embarked on this encompassing research on spatial concepts). The position I have just expressed on the difference and correlation between place and space has already been affirmed by the Australian philosopher Jeff Malpas, with different words, but similar intent: ‘Space and place are related, not only because of the historical and linguistic connections […], but also because place carries within it the idea of openness, expansiveness or “room” that is central to the idea of space. A place is a certain sort of opened space, but it is a space opened within a boundary [see Image 2 above, where I say that space is the physical extension that is intrinsic to place], and so the space that appears in place is space that takes on an almost ‘felt’ quality that is quite distinct from the smoothed-out, abstract mode of extension that is “space” as it is understood apart from place (for instance, within geometry or physical theory). The bounded space of place is also a space inextricably bound to time, since the spatial openness of place, which arises through its boundedness, is essentially dynamic.’
When I began to entertain the hypothesis of space as a three-dimensional purely mental construct — the happy fruit of a millenary intellectual debate —, and place as the fundamental and real concrete vessel that has the right to be associated to the lived body embedded in the middle of other concrete phenomena, it was not that easy for me to accept some contradictions that may emerge between what phenomenologists say — the phenomenal description of the world where the concrete presence of body has a decisive role for knowledge, which is a position I’m absolutely sympathetic with — and their often ambiguous use of spatial terms. With hindsight, for an architect like me, who began his theoretical journey into the meaning of spatial/placial concepts by applying the principles of phenomenology to architecture (thanks to the illuminating theoretical support of Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty), this was probably the main obstacle to shift my vision from an ordinary, almost physical interpretation of space as three-dimensional entity (often blurring with its ambiguous figurative interpretation), to a purely abstract, dimensionally-based, understanding of space, which is coupled to a more encompassing notion of place, which embraces both concrete and abstract dimensions. To state this latter interpretation of space and place differently, and sum up what I often say, it is place that emerges as a concrete entity out of physicochemical processes; its subsequent evolutive phases or stages — place as biological (→ ecological) and social entity — may culminate into cultural dimensions, which are typically human, and which I also call ‘symbolic’, or ‘intellectual’; it is out of this symbolic dimension, stage or state that the modern notion of space and abstract notions of place emerge.
Coming back to the more specific question concerning urban spaces and public spaces, I believe the usual intent of those who employ this phraseology is to refer to concrete situations, for which, I argue, the term place would be much more appropriate since their ultimate intent is to refer to complex (concrete) phenomena happening in a certain place and not to describe whatever place as a dimensional fact (no actual or concrete phenomena can be represented as a pure dimensional fact without missing important information). I already know some criticism to the positions I sustain: ‘Ok, I intend to speak about actual problems, therefore, if you prefer, actual places — my informed interlocutor interested in urban questions says —, but my discourse on the management and planning of a city, or its parts, is generic and it applies to many different situations, circumstances or urban areas: that’s why I use the term space. Space is a generic and neutral expanse, while place is more specific, either that specificity is due to things, bodies or human matters.’ Even more straightforwardly, a phenomenologist can use the argument I have already introduced: ‘… by the term space, I especially mean the physical extension that is intrinsic to place’, while the learned man simply say that ‘space is just a figurative notion’ so that everybody can keep on talking about physical space, concrete space, living space, material space, urban space, and the likes, without really questioning the ultimate nature of space (and place). As I have said, I also believe space is a figurative concept, but we must also be aware that in many concrete circumstances the reference to the extensive character that is inevitably and preferably associated to the term space is not enough to appropriately describe the complexity of real situations where temporality, materiality and locality are the participating characters of the extensive character; but if we have that awareness we arrive at the same conclusion, or similar conclusions with respect to the encompassing definition of place that I’m arguing for in this blog (in this way space is absorbed into place, not the other way around). As for the different ways of understanding spatial notions, we cannot simply say that every profession has a specific understanding: we need to find a common ground given that spatial concepts are primary concepts to understand and give a direction to the World everybody is a part of. The question concerning the meanings of space and place — which is ultimately the question of the appropriate spatial/placial language to understand and explain the world and its phenomena — is everything but settled: we have already seen that, when I introduced the arguments by Edward S. Casey, Julian B. Barbour, Max Jammer and Steven Weinberg in the past three historically-based articles I already mentioned above. New meanings for a new era: this the necessity behind rethinking the concepts of space and place.
The case of tactical urbanism, and, more generally, the frequent use of terms like urban spaces and/or public spaces in the fields of urban planning and the social sciences, is simply a working example to point out the common, sometimes ambiguous and sometimes too-limited (too sectorial) understanding that those disciplines have concerning the territory and its use. I fundamentally argue that the current complexity of phenomena in the real world, where the earth is understood as a complex system (emerging from physicochemical, biological, → ecological, sociocultural, and symbolic processes), cannot be tackled anymore if we retain outdated spatial concepts, such as the traditional concepts of space and place. In this precise historical moment, any person that works with spaces and places professionally, in whatever form, cannot avoid considering those concepts critically, within an interdisciplinary and systemic vision that surpasses the mechanistic, reductionistic and deterministic vision of reality we inherited from the misapplication of Cartesian and Newton principles. Therefore, we need to shift our common understanding of spatial notions from an outdated reductionistic perspective — whose reductionistic vision I summarize into (i) the conception of space understood as physical; (ii) the conception of place understood as ‘simple location’ within space — to a more updated systemic perspective (this is the main point of my current research — see the article What Is Place? What Is Space? for an overview of those reformed notions). That’s why we need to rethink those spatial concepts: they are among those very few universal notions that are common to everybody and necessary to understand and explain the complex phenomena of reality within and without us. The process of revision of the traditional meaning of spatial concepts (in the Newtonian sense, which is the ordinary sense) started more than one century ago, and even before, thanks philosophical and physical thinking, especially, and it is slowly extending to other disciplines: the phenomenon we are describing, the shift of meaning of spatial concepts, is a historical phenomenon that requires decades if not centuries to be accomplished and it regards the spirit of an epoch, our current epoch, which is completely different from the previous ones; so different that we have coined a new term — the Anthropocene —  to mark such discontinuity. I argue that such discontinuity is the ultimate effect of the human way of considering place as space, a kind of reductionism par excellence, which had unexpected drawbacks: the most important one is certainly the short-sighted exploitation of the physical and biological environment we belong to, whose placial essence — described in reductionist and mechanistic terms, hence described as mere physical value in abstraction from biological, → ecological, social and cultural values — has been misunderstood. To surpass the reductionist view of reality that has confused space, or abstract spaces with place, we must consider any territory — I mean any concrete territory —, either natural or human-made, as a place. Any place is the actualization (a concretion, properly) of interconnected physicochemical, biological (→ ecological), sociocultural and symbolic — or intellectual — processes. We usually analyse places using abstract models, through which we reduce such places to an abstract space or a system of spaces. Any spatial model (i.e. any project) that aims at intervening on the real territory and does not take into account the correlation between systems (physicochemical, biological, → ecological, sociocultural and symbolic systems) is a limited model with respect to its eventual successful application to the territory, understood as an encompassing place. Spatial models are especially criticisable if they appeal to a traditional understanding of place — as a physical location that may or may not have sociocultural significance —, which, in the end, does not reflect the overall physical, chemical, biological (→ ecological), social, cultural and symbolic complexity of any real territory. To adopt an expression frequently employed by linguistics and the social sciences, when we say that a map is not the territory, we should understand the map as a spatial model (its realm is an abstract realm — the realm of space), while the territory is the actual place understood as an overarching system that we cannot divide into separate components (physicochemical, biological, social and symbolic components, to begin with) without returning to the reduced state of space or map. From a more basic perspective, we cannot separate the dimensional character of reality (or of place, given that, as I always say, ‘reality is a place’) from its material, temporal and locative character (as for the notion of locality we cannot understand it in Newtonian terms anymore, but we must understand it in a more ‘extended way’, as a field of localization, following to the example of quantum mechanics). That’s why it is risky to sustain that we can use the term space instead of place, to describe certain concrete situations: within the traditional understanding of spatial concepts (space as physical extent, and place as part/location of space occupied by bodies) this often implies a reduced understanding of the real phenomenon-place, which, far from being a mere locative notion, is all-at-once, material, temporal and locative, and, consequently, dimensional. When a concrete place or territory is represented using the term space, it is often involuntarily and unconsciously depleted of those material, temporal, and extended locative characters that give a fundamentum to reality. Therefore, anytime we want to refer to the real territory beyond its extensive character and within a global systemic perspective, we should consider the use of the term place more appropriate than space. After all, if we think about it, the term ‘dimension’ comes from the Latin ‘mensura’ which means measure: what gives ‘measure’ a sense is not the dimension/distance per sè but the concrete thing to which the measure is associated, or the thing/place for which the original measure has been taken (i.e. the foot of a person in the case of the foot as the corresponding unit of measurement; or the Earth for an early definition of the metre, that is one ten-millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the equator). Similarly, what gives space a sense is not the fact of being something extended per sè (space is extension, distance) but the fact of being associated to what ultimately gives a sense to that extension or distance: a thing or place (which are for me the same, in the end). A risky omission, concerning what gives a fundamentum to the dimensional fact, is behind the term space every time we use it in the realm of concrete phenomena.
I close this article on the shortcomings of certain spatial expressions with the following example on Tactical Urbanism, which was suggested to me by the episode of the radio speaker. On the promotional flyer of the Workshop on Tactical Urbanism, organized in February 2019 by the School of Architecture at the Politecnico di Milano — the place where I got my Master of Architecture —, we read: ‘Tactical Urbanism […] works starting with the small scale of the street, the block, and the building reimagining the delivery of basic public goods and services. Much in the way acupuncture inserts needles into a part of the body to affect the well-being of the entire organism, so needle-like projects in neighbourhoods can lead to positive change in an equitable manner. In this workshop, the groups of students will consider several areas in Milan that would benefit from Urban Acupuncture. The first step will be an analysis based on observations of people’s behaviours, leading to a social mapping of various patterns that emerge in public spaces. By analysing these patterns, we can observe fundamental principles of human behaviour that help us to design a better city for the people to live. This mapping will indicate where there is a need for intervention that would improve public use of these spaces. The second phase is to design an intervention for the space that will take the form of a game board. By designing an experimental concept for intervention, you propose through simple means to change the idea and the use of public space according to a new understanding of people’s needs and behaviour. The third phase is a “performance”, a physical intervention in the space you have studied that is a prelude to how the lifeform of a place can be changed or led to adopt to obtain a more sustainable and socially rich environment. This could involve artistic ingredients, signage, physical actions, and other sensorial creations that temporarily alter the normal use of a space.’ Students of architecture are the direct recipients of that Workshop, but I want to focus on the spatial vocabulary used in that flyer. The way concepts of space and place are intended represents an academic standard, which is universally accepted even outside the discipline, since this is also the way ordinary language intends those concepts. Therefore, my discourse on the use of certain spatial notions is general, and it does not refer to the Workshop per se, not even to Tactical Urbanism and/or Urban Acupuncture. Concerning that spatial vocabulary, I would say that architects (and aspiring architects) are three-times victims (unwitting victims, for the sake of precision): in no strict order, they are victims to the social sciences, according to whose recurrent mantra personal and social lived experience turn space into place; they are victims to classical physics, which, in virtue of its alleged ultimate explanatory power, is responsible for the capillary diffusion of Newton’s spatial notions, which were initially adopted for specific mathematical purposes (we have seen it in the article Space and Place: A Scientific History – Part I), but soon transcended any disciplinary boundaries — these concepts are (absolute) space, understood as the framework for physical phenomena, and place, understood as part of space occupied by bodies (location). Finally, (or, maybe, I should have said ‘initially’) they are victims to ordinary language, which has absorbed and diffused those mathematically-oriented notions in virtue of their outstanding successful application to the realm of mechanical phenomena, which are especially evident at the human scale, thus becoming universally-accepted notions. This also gives you an indication of the difficulty that the architect, urban planner or student of architecture has to tackle if he/she wants to reach for an encompassing understanding of place and space of the kind I argue for in this blog: he/she needs to set his/her knowledge free from the influence of ordinary language; free from the opportune yet narrowing influence of the social sciences, and of classical physics (here, the physicist may object that, for describing ordinary phenomena at the human scale, the concepts of space and place formalized by Newton still hold, but that’s another story). If we were able to give up the traditional meanings associated to space and place the reward would be high, since we would avoid many ambiguities and shortcomings concerning the current use of spatial vocabulary on the one side, and we would have a more encompassing understanding of reality on the other side. If we analyse the spatial vocabulary of the flyer, which, I repeat, is quite ordinary and no particular errors concerning its use can be attributed to the authors, we may note that the intersecting agencies of ordinary language, the social sciences and classical physics result in an ambiguous and roughly undifferentiated use of spatial terms: here, space is sometimes used as a synonym for place; sometimes space has a more abstract connotation, while other times is evidently ‘concrete’; sometimes it has a generic connotation, sometimes it is specific. As for the concept of place, it has a specific and widely diffused connotation: here, it is evident the echo of the brotherhood between the architect and the social scientist (which dates back to the ‘60s) who established that ‘where there is life — sociocultural life, properly — there is a place’. As a counterpoint, we can infer that ‘where there is no life there is space, or a non-place’, which is another fortunate spatial notion — yet, an ambiguous spatial notion, for me — which had an astonishing success after the publication, in 1995, of the book Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, by the French anthropologist Marc Augé (‘If a place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity will be a non-place… supermodernity produces non-places, meaning spaces which are not themselves anthropological places…’); this is the message behind the expression ‘the lifeform of a place’ that we read on the flyer. The legacy of the social sciences is a widely accepted legacy for the architect, and a positive one, provided he/she is able to expand his/her vision of place beyond the boundaries of human questions; in fact, ‘it is now absolutely clear that the environmental awareness should draw a proper epistemological line of demarcation for disciplines like architecture and urban planning’ to quote what professor of Philosophy and Aesthetics Nicola Emery said in the book ‘L’ Architettura Difficile’. The sociocultural connotation of a place is what I also refer to when I speak of ‘social state of place’, which is one out of four states of place that we must consider when we deal with place understood as an encompassing notion (see Image 2 in the article Preliminary Notes). The social connotation of a place does not exhaust the encompassing nature that any place has, given that the nature of any place is seamlessly physicochemical, biological (→ ecological), social and (if the human domain is included) symbolic. As for the frequent assumption of the social scientist concerning the possibility ‘to turn space into place’ (which means that personal and social values transform space into place), within the encompassing spatial/placial framework that I propose, this is a phraseology I would also discourage since that ‘turn’ would be an act of reification — this is what we are talking about, given that space is abstract and place is concrete; and behind any act of reification there can only be magic or religious narratives. I have used the term ‘victim’ referred to architects, urban planners or students of architecture and the way they use certain spatial vocabulary. We might think that if there are victims there is someone or something to blame for them. This is not the case. Certainly, ordinary language plays a major role in transferring and diffusing meanings from certain contexts to others; moreover, concerning the overall question of language, we should be conscious of the intrinsic epistemological limits that are co-implicated in the relation between man, language and his understanding of physical reality, so that we could rightly assume that language is where everything starts. However, the fundamental point I want to put your focus on is that the meaning and the way we use terms like space and place (and very likely any concept) is the result of an epoch, the result of a certain vision of the World or reality (Weltanschauung); therefore, it is the result of concurrent historical phenomena. So, if there is someone responsible for the use and the sense attributed to spatial concepts this is man himself who is influenced by the surrounding circumstances of each epoch (physicochemical, biological, social, intellectual circumstances), and, in turn, try to influence those circumstances, at his advantage, in a perennial fight with them. So, there are nor victims neither someone to blame for the use of spatial concepts: history says how we use those concepts and we adapt our language to history. Yet history is changing, and the meaning of spatial concepts is changing; so, we must adapt our language to history. Let’s begin by using the terms space and place in the appropriate contexts.
A final consideration, about the constraints of language and the use of spatial concepts. The question of language deserves special attention since it is a basic question, which is too often overlooked by scholars. In our specific case, how can we talk about space and place if we take them for granted and use them as unclarified notions (the traditional spatial terminology loosely handle or does not handle at all the following questions, according to a contemporary perspective: abstract vs. concrete, general vs. particular, macroscale vs microscale), and, in some cases, without even knowing their linguistic origins and original meanings? And, even more fundamental, how can we understand each other on the meaning and domains of application of spatial concepts if we do not consider the relation between the Thing and the Word that names the Thing? I still vividly remember when, during a discussion on the nature of space and place, my interlocutor said ‘remember that place and space are just concepts…’, with the intent to hurriedly dismiss my distinction between spatial terminology. Surely, they are concepts, or, better, words that convey a certain meaning to ‘something’; yet, the basic question waiting for an answer is: is that ‘something’ behind those words a concrete thing — a thing present-at-hand in the Heideggerian sense of that which is concrete, or actual — or is that ‘something’ an abstract thing, like an idea, a number, a dream, a hope, a fantasy, or a hallucination can be? I say that place belongs to the first category of ‘concrete things’, to begin with; conversely, space, ‘physical space’, material space, non-places, etc. belong to the second category of ‘abstract things’ (it is a bit flimsy to add an attribute of opposite sign and believe we can transform an abstract entity into a concrete entity). And if we admit that space is an abstract entity, why do we keep on using that term in circumstances where things are concrete and whose overall aspect cannot be tackled via ‘dimensional’ or other reduced characters only? This is not a mere question of opinions or linguistic choices; the question is to elaborate on the meaning of the traditional spatial terminology — I especially mean space and place — so that these terms can still be used to explain the complex phenomena of reality (physicochemical, biological, social, and symbolic phenomena and related epiphenomena: geographical, ecological, anthropological, political, economic, architectural, etc.) with more accuracy (more realistically, in the Kantian sense of the term ‘real’, that is, in the more encompassing way as possible) and less ambiguously with respect to the past or present. That’s what rethinking space and place means: to keep the old words and criticize their meanings if they don’t get a hold anymore of the complex phenomena of reality according to the way we understand them today. With specific reference to the concept of place, if quantum mechanics showed the inconsistency of the traditional notion of locality, this does not mean that we must reject the notion of place and consider it as an outdated concept (place and locality are connected notions, if not synonymous, within a strict Newtonian/classical perspective); what is outdated and we should reject is the association of a restricted notion of locality to the word ‘place’; what is outdated is to understand space as physical and place as a simple location, to quote what philosopher and mathematician Alfred N. Whitehead already said nearly one century ago (analogously to the case of simple location pointed out by Whitehead, I consider physical space — and similar expression that entail space is a concrete entity — another example of fallacy of misplaced concreteness). For sure, apart from contemporary physics, philosophers and social scientists, also contributed to change the meaning of place, enriching it far beyond the physical notions of locality devised by classical physics and traditionally attributed to place. However, this is not enough to recover ‘place’ as a working concept adapted to the complexities of our contemporary epoch. We need to attribute place an extended, encompassing sense of location and an encompassing locatory power; extended in the same sense for which a field is extended (the concept of field is the ultimate physical notion adopted by physicists to explain physical phenomena). This ‘extension’ of meaning is necessary, but what gives sense and id-entity to place is not the fact of being an extended location in itself (in theory, both an extended region or a pinpoint location can be considered simple locations, that is abstract, ‘inconsistent’ notions), but the fact of being an extended processuality (‘spatially’ distributed processes) after which an entity is created and to which a definite location, either extended or not, is attributed (that processuality may regard physical, chemical, biological, social, cultural and symbolic processes). No location exists as a separate entity from the thing emerging from that location in consequence of certain actualized processes. The reformed meaning of place that I’m envisioning, here, for which any thing is a place to other things (I think any rational discourse on reality has to be based on at least two things to escape solipsism), not only extends its physical limits, in the sense we have just illustrated, and its social limits, in the sense already auspicated by social scientists; it also extends its limits to embrace a biological perspective (and an ecological perspective as consequence) that goes far beyond the limits of the human domain to include every living system and its environment (the ecological domain is the epiphenomenal realm where physicochemical and biological systems are correlated).
With the spirit of one who believes that we ‘cannot go entirely away from old words because one has to talk about something’ this is my attempt to save old words — place and space — redefining their previous limits, so that everybody can keep on using them as useful working concepts to tackle the complex, entangled phenomena of today’s world.
 After having read Heidegger’s What Is a Thing? I do not use the term ‘real’ with ease anymore since I learned that the traditional way it is used is not completely free of ambiguity. Now, that attribute, ‘real’, is often (if not always) used to define concrete or actual things, phenomena, or situations. This is fine and almost everybody agrees with this ordinary use. Me too; at least, until I read that book, which extended somewhat my understanding of what is ‘real’. Heidegger, mentining Kant, reminded us that the term ‘real’ comes from the Latin root of word ‘res’ which means ‘thing’. The usual connotation of that which is real or realistic suggests us that the thing is real when it is present-at-hand, to use Heidegger’s terminology. An actual thing that I can see, touch or manipulate — a thing that ‘kicks us back’, I have said elsewhere. To put it bluntly, according to ordinary language, the red chair I’m sitting on in this moment is real, in the sense that it is actual, concrete. It is not an abstract thing, or simply a concept, or a memory. Here, we make the point: the ‘abstract thing’. In fact, Heidegger, in that book, also reminded us that besides things present-at-hand (actual and/or concrete things), there are other ways of understanding things; so that, in the end, there are concrete things, and more abstract things as well. To put it bluntly, this means that reality, the domain of that which is real, if we stick to the original Latin connotation of the term real and the Kantian interpretation, is composed of concrete, actual things (these are the things that we usually define ‘real’ in the sense that they ‘truly exist’) and abstract (or potential, ideal, platonic…) things. This is the reason why I will often accompany the attribute ‘real’ with the attribute ‘actual’ and/or ‘concrete’ to define the thing that truly exists, the thing present-at-hand to distinguish it from other categories of things that, within an extended understanding of ‘reality’ are also real but are not actual or concrete (abstract, potential, ideal, platonic, imaginary… things). This is a brief excerpt taken from Heidegger explaining Kant’s understanding of reality: ‘We have to drop the currently familiar meaning of “reality” in the sense of actuality in order to understand what Kant means by the real in appearance […] Reality comes from “realitas”. Realis is what belongs to “res”. That means a something… All such is real, belongs to the res, to the something “natural body”, regardless of whether the body actually exists or not… reality does not mean actuality. […] “Reality” as thinghood answers the question of what a thing is, and not whether it exists…’, in Martin Heidegger, What Is a Thing? (South Bend: Gateway Editions Ltd., 1976), 212-214. See also the quotations referred to the notes ,  of the article What Is a Thing?.
 I have taken this expression from Edward S. Casey, who explicitly referred to the concept of place as an ‘unclarified notion’, regardless the burgeoning interest this concept arose, since the last decades of the past century, among different disciplines and, especially, architecture, anthropology, and ecology. In Edward S. Casey, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), xii.
 I consider the actualization of processes into concrete material entities a basic ontological threshold that could be useful to differentiate the realm of concrete phenomena (a realm of place) from the realm of abstract phenomena (a realm of space). Any time we make examples taken from the concrete world of facts and happenings, or when we speak of situations that can be traced back to concrete situations beyond their mere dimensional value, no matter how generic they can be, we should consider using the term ‘place’ rather than ‘space’. I hope this concise statement made by political geographer John A. Agnew can make the point: ‘Many glibly write about the “production of space” when they imply the making of place.’ in, John A. Agnew, Classics in human geography revisited in Progress in Human Geography 27,5, 2003), 613. The same can be said with respect to those who speak about ‘urban spaces’, ‘public spaces’, and the likes: in most cases, behind such spaces there are places.
 See the article Back to the Origins of Space and Place.
 This is a difficult question to settle; a question which goes far back to Plato and to the (spatial? Placial?) notion ‘chōra’. Plato was the first to have addressed, with a new theory, those ambiguities between the realm of sensible facts and ideal forms (or concepts I would also say), through which we use to define, understand or analyse such facts. Plato sustained that the correlation between the two realms defined a third ‘genus’, a third kind of realm, a hybrid territory that we can only understand by a sort of bastard reasoning; this ‘mediatory’ realm is a receptacle, that we, modern people, could interpret through the notions ‘space’ or ‘place’; however, chōra — this is the original name of that Platonic receptacle — is neither space nor place. I argue that many combinations of words referring to different realms (one concrete the other abstract or ideal) like urban and space (urban space), physical and space (physical space) or flesh and fantasy (flesh for fantasy) just to refer to the episode I mentioned, and many similar expressions, are possible exemplifications of that Platonic chōra, which is an ambiguous and difficult realm to understand, as Plato himself said; so ambiguous that one could think that expressions like urban spaces, physical space, living space and the like, can refer to both concrete and/or abstract realms, that is, they can describe both concrete and/or abstract situations. Overall, I’m quite sceptic concerning the explanatory power of those combinations between concrete attributes and abstract words: it seems to me they are, more often than not, an easy-to use formal solution to represent that third kind of realm; therefore, the ambiguity those expressions convey is more a hindrance than a vantage. I will try to show the differences that are implicated behind the modern, ordinary use of those expressions and to solve their ambiguities in a different way with respect to Plato (as a matter of fact even if chōra is a fascinating term to use, and an apt term to take into account certain ambiguities that are intrinsic to the spatial/placial question, this is not a viable term to use since it did not pass the gates of ordinary language and history. We were left with ‘space’ and ‘place’ at our disposition to give a proper framework to the contemporary spatial/placial debate). This is an important issue I will certainly come back to in future articles; in the meanwhile, you can find further information on the Platonic notion chōra and my interpretation of it, in the following articles: Preliminary Notes and Back to the Origins of Space and Place. For those who have a special interest in Architecture and chōra as a way to address specific architectural spatial/placial questions I suggest to take a look at the video Concrete Geometries I made years ago: Architecture is a discipline par excellence situated in the realm of chōra (between space and place).
 When I speak of ‘orthodox phenomenologist’ I especially refer to Husserl, Merleau-Ponty and their disciples.
 I especially refer to the following quotation: ‘Spaces receive their being from locales and not from space’. The term ‘locales’ is semantically closer to the concept of place rather than space, as the etymology of the word also suggests (from the Latin ‘locus’, place). In Martin Heidegger, Basic Writings (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1993), 356. The word ‘locales’ is elsewhere translated with ‘locations’, which does not change my point concerning the derivation of space from place; see Edward S. Casey, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 275.
 At this regard, see the part of the article Place and Space: A Philosophical History focused on Heidegger.
 The expression ‘non-places’ was coined by the French anthropologist Marc Augé, and it illustrates certain territorial phenomena analysed from a sociocultural perspective, especially (see also note 16, below). Given that the framework of place I propose encompasses the social perspective, as well as other perspectives taken individually, I have spoken of ‘bits and pieces’ to point out that the social perspective analyses or describes one part of a more complex and encompassing phenomenon (place). Therefore, within a global perspective, that expression — non-places — should be preferably intended as non-social places.
 Jeff Malpas, “Thinking Topographically: Place, Space and Geography”, Il Cannocchiale: Rivista di Studi Filosofici 42, no. 1-2 (2017): 25-53.
 Apart from a contemporary author like Edward Casey, it seems to me that the texts of the last period of Heidegger and those of Bachelard (at least the Bachelard in The Poetics of Space) are more open to the possibility of interpreting space as an abstract (or mental) notion rather than a notion referred to something physical. Conversely, in many contemporary books, papers, and articles that I have read concerning phenomenological studies in the field of architecture and the social sciences, the shade of meaning that space suggested me is that of a physical entity; that is, space is dealt with as something physical, analogously to place; the only difference between the two concepts is a difference of scale, of generic vs specific, and of human significance (this latter aspect is the flagship of the social sciences). This is an aspect I will return to in the future: I especially would like to elucidate my thinking on space and place in comparison with authors and scholars like Marc Augé, Edward Relph, Michael Foucault, Georges Perec, Yi-Fu Tuan, John Agnew and many others who directly investigated spatial phenomena.
 For those who are particularly interested in the architectural debate, I’m going to publish an article where I will show my first architectural hypotheses of a spatial syntax based on Phenomenology, which I began to developed more than two decades ago, using the ordinary spatial vocabulary. In the meanwhile, you can see this video, Space and Place: Växjö Tennis Hall, where I show how I applied that syntax to a real case: the project for an architectural competition held in Sweden. Note that the spatial terminology I have used in that video is not the terminology I would have used today: for instance, the use of the term space, at 4’56”, is too ambiguous (wrong?), since I used the term ‘space’ to refer to a hypothetical physical situation which, today, after having developed a different spatial and linguistic sensibility, I would have described in different terms. As I have said, at that time, like many scholars and architects still do today, I had developed an ordinary, almost physical interpretation of space, which presents many shortcomings, especially when it is used in correlation with the term place. What is at issue, here, is not the use of a term instead of another within an old paradigm (place instead of space): rather, we are speaking of a change of meanings (spacer instead of space and placer instead of place) and a change of terms (placer instead of space) in consequence of that change of meanings.
 In the article Back to the Origins of Space and Place I have showed that spatial notions were basic notions for the development of human language, society and culture. At this regard, I report here an excerpt of that article: ‘according to the American linguist Morris Swadesh, among the list of 100 words that are considered to be constitutive of the basic vocabulary of the Proto-Indo-European language, apart from the demonstrative pronouns ‘this’ and ’that’- from which a derivative order of territorial relations may be established on the base of the adverbs of place ‘here’ and ‘there’- the only term we find that can be associated to some of the spatial/placial notions we have analysed so far is precisely the root term *(s)teh2, whose meaning is related to the notion of position as standing. Interestingly enough that root can be recorded in almost any language belonging to the Proto-Indo-European family and only words like I, You, We, This, That, Foot, Sleep, Water, and Name are considered to be more frequent in use.’
 For the use and meaning of the term Anthropocene I redirect you to the following article by Paul J. Crutzen, “The Anthropocene”, in Earth System Science in the Anthropocene, edited by Ehlers and Krafft (New York: Springer, 2006), 13-18. For the beginning and the markers that may define the Anthropocene Epoch, see Colin N. Waters at al., Can nuclear weapons fallout mark the beginning of the Anthropocene Epoch? (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 71-3, 2015), 46–57. On the argument, see also the following link to Working Group on the ‘Anthropocene’, Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy.
 For me Tactical Urbanism and Urban Acupuncture are fascinating terms; architects are very good at finding (or adopting) always new fascinating titles for things and happenings, as also philosopher Jacques Derrida noted when he spoke about Eisenman’s ability to play with titles, as documented in the book Chora L Works; in Jacques Derrida, and Peter Eisenman. Chora L Works: Jacques Derrida and Peter Eisenman, eds. J.Kipnis and T. Leeser (New York: The Monacelli Press, 1997), 95.
 Marc Augè, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, trans. by J. Howe (London: Verso, 1995), 77,78. Outside of the social sciences and within an ontologically-based understanding of place (where place is considered the ground for the existence of any being) the super catching expression ‘non-place’, one of the flagships of the social sciences, is a puzzling expression that may raise some perplexities. There are obvious discrepancies between the place or space of philosophy (or of metaphysics) and the place or space of the social sciences, or other disciplines. Yet, within the encompassing perspective that I propose here, we should try to overcome such discrepancies and integrate them under the same fundamental theoretical construction. For me, ‘physical space’ and ‘non-places’ represent the two sides of the same coin: if we consider place as an encompassing notion, and we do not want to limit ourselves to physical or to human questions only, those are too limited notions, now, to tackle the complex problems of reality that we have envisioned in the recent past, whose seamless complexity cannot be reduced to parts without understanding how those parts interact between each other (physical, chemical, biological, → ecological, sociocultural and symbolic parts). We are facing unprecedented social, economic, environmental, political, and cultural challenges that require an encompassing systemic perspective and agenda. This is the sense of rethinking the concepts of space and place within the systemic perspective I propose here. From such embracing perspective, notions like ‘physical space’ and ‘non-places’, regardless their impact and success in explaining certain phenomena in the past decades, can be ambiguous notions, if abstracted from the global context. The expression ‘non-places’, by considering place an exclusively human phenomenon, reduce place (the whole of reality) to a human domain, which is just a part within the Whole. Strictly speaking, there are places, especially urban or suburban places, whose ‘personal, social and cultural value’ is very limited or even null — and this is what that social scientist wants to say with the fortunate expression ‘non-places’ —, but for architects, planners, and political decision-makers (those who should care for the territory as a multi-faceted concretion of different and entangled physicochemical, biological, → ecological, sociocultural and symbolic processes), ‘non-places’ should be employed with extreme caution. Just like ‘physical space’.
 The translation is mine. In Nicola Emery, L’Architettura Difficile: Filosofia del Costruire (Milano: Christian Marinotti Edizioni, 2007), 167.
 The phrase ‘one cannot go entirely away from the old words because one has to talk about something…’ was pronounced by Heisenberg, after a discussion with Bohr, concerning the epistemological difficulties of explaining the new picture of quantum mechanics within a classical terminology. In, Robert M. Pirsig, “Subjects, Objects, Data and Values” in Einstein meets Magritte: An Interdisciplinary Reflection, eds. D. Aerts, J. Brokaert and E. Mathijs (Dordrecht: Springer Science+Business Media, 1999), 83. I have quoted this passage because the situation described by Robert Pirsig through the words of Heisenberg, for its linguistic and epistemological implications, is similar to the one I’m experiencing while I’m trying to reasoning about a new meaning for old words (space and place, above all); a meaning more in tune with the current understanding of reality.
Agnew, John A. “Classics in human geography revisited”. In Progress in Human Geography, 27,5, 605-614, 2003.
Augè, Marc. Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, translated by John Howe. London: Verso, 1995.
Casey, S. Edward. The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.
Crutzen, Paul J. “The Anthropocene”. In Earth System Science in the Anthropocene, edited by Ehlers and Krafft. New York: Springer, 2006.
Derrida, Jacques and Eisenman Peter. Chora L Works: Jacques Derrida and Peter Eisenman, edited by Jeffrey Kipnis and Tomas Leeser. New York: The Monacelli Press, 1997.
Emery, Nicola. L’Architettura Difficile: Filosofia del Costruire. Milano: Christian Marinotti Edizioni, 2007.
Heidegger, Martin. Basic Writings. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993.
—. What Is a Thing? South Bend: Gateway Editions Ltd., 1967.
Malpas, Jeff. “Thinking Topographically: Place, Space and Geography.” Il Cannocchiale: Rivista di Studi Filosofici 42, no. 1-2 (2017): 25-53.
Newton, Isaac. The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, translated by Andrew Motte. New York: Daniel Adee, c.1846.
Pirsig, Robert M. “Subjects, Objects, Data and Values”. In Einstein meets Magritte: An Interdisciplinary Reflection, edited by Aerts, Brokaert and Mathijs. Dordrecht: Springer Science+Business Media, 1999.
Waters, Colin N., James P.M. Syvitski, Agnieszka Gałuszka, Gary J Hancock, Jan Zalasiewicz, Alejandro Cerreta, Jacques Grinevald, Catherine Jeandel, J. R. McNeill, Colin Summerhayes, and Anthony Barnosky Barnosky, A. Can nuclear weapons fallout mark the beginning of the Anthropocene Epoch? Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 71(3), 2015.