This Week in Architecture: What Makes a Place?

It’s well understood that a sense of place is an essential value for people, architecture, and cities. Everyone from designers to planners to city governments speak breathlessly of the power of places to transform cities for the better - but it’s not clear what placemaking really means.

Even more frustratingly, the term is often wielded to defend opposing styles or approaches in architecture. For some, making a place can mean creating an architecture of singular identity; for others, it means understanding and blending into existing context. The power of place is commonly extolled in advertisements for massive private development; it’s proven an equally valuable watchword for local preservation and community efforts. This week's stories touched on a range of definitions of placemaking. Read on for this week's review. 

The Two Extremes

Historical building and Yale university campus in downtown New Haven CT, USA / via

Robert Stern, founder of RAMSA and former Dean of Yale’s School of Architecture, is known for his portfolio of neo-classical works, works that at first glance seem disconnected from much of contemporary architectural discourse. But, as Mark Alan Hewitt argues, this isn’t really case: Stern’s works prove that contemporary placemaking need not be shocking to be successful.

The Imprint / MVRDV. Image © Ossip van Duivenbode

But sometimes a little shock value can be a good thing. Dutch architecture firm MVRDV recently completed The Imprint, a nightclub and indoor theme park located outside of Seoul. Despite the interior facing program, the architects cited a desire to connect the building to its place and surroundings. The result: a striking white facade dotted with trompe l'oeil windows and doors, dipped partially in a shimmering gold.

Collective Memory, Past and Future

The Ripple Effects. Image Courtesy of Wodiczko + Bonder, Maryann Thompson Architects and Walter Hood

The shortlist for Boston’s MLK memorial was announced this week, featuring names such as David Adjaye and MASS Design Group. The memorial is part of a range of initiatives in the city intended to honor the Kings.

But memorials and installations can be an odd paradox in placemaking. By their definition they aim to harness common identity, but are often built to maximise public visibility. Can something that belongs to everyone belong truly to anyone?

Courtesy of Es Devlin

It’s partly this question that designer Es Devlin has said she’ll tackle in her proposal for the UK’s pavilion at Dubai’s Expo 2020. Named the Poem Pavilion, the design will highlight British expertise in artificial intelligence and space.

Making a Place - then Remaking It

Renovations aren’t out of the ordinary - but changes to ancient ruins aren’t so common. In this tweet thread from 2014, Paul Clements took readers down the rabbit-hole adventure after discovering strange inconsistencies between different pictures of the Temple of Athenian Zeus. It’s a bizarre and compelling tale of ingenuity in design - and the power of a postcard.

One Not to Miss

Courtesy of VSBA

An previously unpublished section from an interview with Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown from 2004. In it they discuss how they approach projects across the globe, their own backgrounds, and what identity means to them and their work.

About this author
Cite: Katherine Allen. "This Week in Architecture: What Makes a Place? " 29 Sep 2018. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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