Meet ‘Third Place Thinking™’ and what it means, past and present
A personal reflection of ‘life in-between’ through the lens of our Founder and Sports Architect, Dion Gosling.
The early days
A good place to start is by telling you the true story of how this all came to be; through my eyes. After all, this is about storytelling – but we’ll get to that soon.
I was quite young when I would run to primary school – I got sick of waiting for the bus. I would spend time on my bike; with no helmet, of course! Yes, those were the days. I had complete freedom. Freedom to explore; freedom to play, freedom while wandering between home and school; and exploring the in-between. Expressing myself and finding out about the world around me.
I found the places I explored more exciting than being at either endpoint. I was always on the move; looking for something to see and experience, looking for something to discover and challenge me. This remains true today.
How youthfulness has influenced my today
Yes, while as a youngster I often got up to no good (mischief stories for another day!) Since then I’ve come to realise that my inquisitive nature, to seek out those in-between places, has influenced my views on what a community is, and the opportunities that exist when we look for them.
Sport, or an active ‘something’ – as it was back then – gave me eyes to look at things, places, and people; and see how they interacted, how they intersected. On reflection, it is these experiences that have shaped my professional career, as an architect that specialises in speciality sports, community, and leisure facilities.
The internal question that raised within me some years ago, centred around our social surround, what it is, and how can it be crafted or improved through our sports and community facilities.
The ideas of freedom, play, belonging, exploration, informal play, and yes, the making of stories – appeared to me to be a reasonable basis for defining our social surroundings and designs: As opposed to our usual social environment, which seemed harder, less attainable.
Out of a young life spent exploring, playing training and travelling the world, I have been shaped by memories and the places I made them in. My proposition, as an elite sportsperson, and now architect is that the success of sports and community facilities is ultimately dictated by how people use them to create their own story and make their own memories. Why? Because people are drawn to the emotional connection of what’s familiar; the in-between places they connect with and the impact these places have on their lives.
The definition of ‘Third Place’
The idea of Third Place is not mine. It came from the writer of The Great Good Place (Third Places) – Ray Oldenburg – out of post-war, mid-century USA; developed off the platform that Americans were looking for something more to life. Suburban sprawl and development needs created an unsatisfactory social environment where a lack of social centres reduced opportunities for informal gatherings and, as Oldenburg propositioned, relieve stress. Oldenburg believed that community and social celebration was essential to our daily work-life balance.
Oldenburg characterises Third Places as both neutral and inclusive social centres. As accessible and accommodating places where conversing is the main activity. As low-key, low-profile, joyful places; with the feelings of comfort and support found in our homes.
These same qualities were the very characteristics – now defined – that I was experiencing during the rural days of Auckland’s 1970’s.
The refreshing re-introduction to Third Place
While the notion of Third Place Thinking™, has always influenced my career, I was reminded of it when I was approached to prepare a presentation to the World Stadium and Arena Congress in Sydney in 2016. I was asked to explore the role of our community facilities, as they related to stadia and arena design. It was when I was researching the topic that I was reminded of the concept of Third Places – the idea of an ‘in-between’ place.
These days, I find narrow inner-city streets and laneways particularly intriguing third places; people always in transit, on the move and between destinations. Today, the integration of art and public architecture brings city streets to life, transforming middle-grounds into active conversation areas, public art installations and social attractions; the in-between, now the new destination, the interim, now a Third Place.
What Third Place Thinking™ mean to us today?
So, what does Third Place Thinking™ mean to us? Our masterplans and designs are all about the journey, the stories, the freedom of expression, and how the community identifies with the project. It is the intersection of sport and the community and how it shapes truly unique facilities.
On that basis, the Third Place for us is about finding our place as architects to investigate the intersection of sport and community. And ultimately, how they are unique to every space, we are privileged to be asked to design.
It is about collaboration and sharing, flexibility and freedom to explore. It is about facilitating community engagement and interaction through design; founded on functionality and intimacy. Because with functionality and intimacy, comes stability and familiarity.
There is a basis for the design of these unique facilities and social places to have a method that has a clear philosophical, social basis, and rationale. And from this, we believe, stories are created. For with stories, comes belonging and the knowledge that binds us.
At the time of defining Third Place, Oldenburg likens that there was a sense and transition occurring whereby one’s ideal vision for the idea of ‘home’ had been substituted or transcended by chasing a vision for an ideal ‘city’.  In my mind, this is a scale and intimacy issue. People know and understand their domestic homes and the pathways to find them. As such, they feel comfortable and far more engaged in these spaces, when compared to larger-scale buildings or city developments.
So, we like to explore what happens when we tip some of the characteristics and qualities of our home into the design and development of larger-scale projects; like our sports and community facilities. For us, designing at the intersection of sport and community allows us to craft not only what we consider a unique building typology, but also the wider site and fields of play – the laneways and access points – providing us with a platform to explore what the Third Place looks and feels like, not only as a building but as a social hub.
We will further explore the influence that Third Place has on our designs. We’ll introduce you to our Third Place Thinking™ and show you how through collaboration, we can engage your community to craft unique facilities that have their own successful identity and function. A place that leaves its users free to explore the opportunity to make it a place of their own, shaped by their personal memories and most importantly, a place where users can enjoy their stories created by in-between places.
 The Great Good Place (Third Place) Chapter One – The Foundation. p7.