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The Shock of Isolation: Lack of Third Spaces

One of our classics is meeting up and hanging out together at SPACE Studies. It allows us to connect not only professionally but also personally with each other. It enables us to highlight our interactions with our environment and share our perceptions. Our lively chat full of laughter yesterday evening ended up being about sharing experiences from our lives when we suddenly remembered the days of the pandemic. Apart from the pandemic’s own shocking effect, it was surprising that it felt like it was a lifetime ago as if it was in another period of life.

This conversation made us remember how much the absence of third places—cafés, parks, and community centres—impacted us. The pandemic dramatically altered our access to third places, those essential social environments beyond home and work. Most of us started working from home, and we literally were left with one place to stay, work, and socialise.

Academically speaking, the absence of these spaces was a stark reminder of their importance. As we navigate a world where the pandemic’s immediate threat has waned, but economic crises persist, we must reflect on what we learned and how we can design more inclusive and accessible third places.

Before we discuss the shock of isolation and the lessons learned, it is essential to remember the theoretical background of the “Third Place” concept.

Theoretical Background

Ray Oldenburg’s theory is that “third places” are informal public gathering spaces that are accessible, inclusive, and promote social interaction. These places are neutral grounds where individuals from diverse backgrounds can come together, fostering community ties and social capital.

Ray Oldenburg describes the character of the third place in his book “The Great Good Place”, and it can be summarised as;

  • Neutral Ground: No individual has to host, making the space equally accessible.
  • Leveler: Inclusive and welcoming to all, regardless of social status.
  • Conversation Hubs: Encourages dialogue and interaction.
  • Accessible: Easy to reach and accommodating to a broad audience.

The Shock of Isolation 

During lockdowns during the pandemic, the isolation almost all of us felt highlighted how much we rely on third places for social interaction and mental well-being. Although these spaces are physical locations, they are also hubs of community and connection. When we lost our third place, we tried to keep in touch with friends and our social environment via the Internet, knowing that it could never replace the actual connections.

Lessons Learned and Changes in Design

Appreciating Third Places 

One of the most well-learned lesson is probably to value third places more than ever as their absence made us realise their crucial role in fostering community ties and supporting mental health.

Evolving Urban Design 

Architects and urban planners are increasingly focusing on creating inclusive and accessible third places. There’s a growing emphasis on designing flexible, multi-use spaces that can adapt to various community needs. This adaptability is crucial in ensuring that third places remain relevant and useful in changing circumstances. Additionally, many research projects were completed during the pandemic about its effects, including “Space in Pandemic: The Use of Indoor & Outdoor Space During the Lockdown in Pandemic,” which was a research project we conducted in collaboration with FMV ISIK University.

Inclusivity and Accessibility 

Designing third places that are truly inclusive and accessible to all is a key focus. This means considering the needs of people with disabilities, as well as those from different socioeconomic backgrounds. However, the current economic crisis raises essential questions:

  • How can we ensure that third places are affordable and within reach for everyone?
  • Is the existence of third places acceptable if they are not economically accessible to some?

Integrating Nature 

Incorporating natural elements into urban spaces has become increasingly important. This includes using plants, water features, and natural materials to create environments that promote relaxation and well-being. Urban green spaces, rooftop gardens, and indoor plants can all contribute to making third places more inviting and health-enhancing.

Community Involvement 

Engaging local communities in the design process is essential to creating spaces that truly serve their needs. Participatory design approaches ensure that third places reflect the desires and requirements of those who use them most.

Sustainability and Future-Proofing 

Sustainable design practices are integral to the creation of third places. Key considerations include using local materials, reducing environmental impact, and planning for long-term resilience. How can we design third places that are sustainable and adaptable to future challenges?

Economic Accessibility 

Given the ongoing economic crises, it’s critical to address the affordability and reach of third places. How can urban planners and designers create spaces that are not only physically accessible but also economically viable for all members of the community? The challenge lies in ensuring that these essential spaces do not become exclusive or unattainable for those most in need.


The pandemic underscored the importance of third places in our lives. As we move forward, it is crucial to incorporate these lessons into urban design practices. By focusing on inclusivity, accessibility, sustainability, and economic viability, we can create vibrant, resilient communities that cherish and utilise their third places. Reflecting on what we have learned and asking the right questions will help us design spaces that are not only functional but also enriching and inclusive for all. That’s why we tried to ask questions instead of searching for their answers. So, we are leaving you with questions asked; let us know if you conducted or are conducting research focusing on these questions. Please leave your comments and share your thoughts and insights.

References and Further Reading

Dolley, J., & Bosman, C. (2019). Rethinking third places. Edward Elgar Publishing.

Mehta, V., & Bosson, J. K. (2009). Third places and the social life of streets. Environment and Behavior42(6), 779–805.

Oldenburg, R., & Brissett, D. (1982). The third place. Qualitative Sociology5(4), 265–284.

Oldenburg, R. (1999). The great good place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. Da Capo Press.




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