You did Zoom happy hour, awkward work meetings on Skype, family chats on WhatsApp, virtual sex on Facetime, and you were good at answering your boss, colleagues, friends and relatives while you were sitting on the toilet or in a video game party.

But, you have no story about it. Good or bad. Jimmy didn’t ironically put anything in his butt while he was drunk (again). Jennifer didn’t throw up over the balcony, destroying Mrs. Smith’s roses on the terrace below. And Max and Lawrence didn’t sneak into the bathroom to cheat only to be caught in the act later that night. Don’t lie to us on this—online events don’t have a good story, gossip or any build-up for the next party... For now.

Because a good party, a good family event, or, to be simple, a good memory, is like a good episode of your favourite show: it needs a context, set-up and many pay-offs. Conversations are a kind of constant social writing and build-up of a souvenir to be shared with others. Like a good Instagram story where virtual identities become characters—you follow characters you like or discover others that could be cool to meet for fun...or alchemy...or sex. And when you meet again at the next party, nobody heads directly for the dance floor (except Karen, but she’s an idiot), instead, you gather around the bar for a first drink and to people watch. That funny anecdote from the last party is the perfect conversation starter to reconnect. A kind of social set-up to share with friends. And the rest of the evening rebounds on this moment. In space, this setup is a foyer, an entrance or a lobby-- a place to gather and frame the rest of the experience.

And, just like in the real world, with online meetings or events, the party doesn’t start immediately. It’s still a step-by-step process. We need a framework to prepare us to enter the experience. Like a video game intro, opening film credits, an opera prologue or the entrance of a theme park.


New Paper II // 2020

The Fourth Place 
Future of Online Social Spaces

Allison Crank & Raphael Penasa for TygerTyger

If quarantine from COVID has taught us anything...

it’s that we are social creatures. Within the first weeks of lock-down, there was a surge of Zoom and quaratini video conference chats. People, isolated in their homes took to the internet to connect: school, dance parties, yoga classes, and playing group games like Pictionary and Bingo. Even Tinder dates started taking place over webcams. Despite socially isolating ourselves in our physical environments, recreating public activities online seemed like second nature even if the tools to do it (via screens) weren’t ideal. We have an innate human need to connect, not only with family or friends, but also with the larger community.

At the same time, large conferences, theatrical productions and events that used to pull thousands of people from around the world together in one physical location, are rearranging themselves in digital formats. And even as these events return, their models may not be the same. With physical public spaces, or third places, as coined by Ray Oldenberg, no longer accessible, a new kind of space—a fourth place—is beginning to emerge. 

But lobbies are overlooked in the virtual world, often boring landing pages with a bit of UI and limited interactions devoid of social connection, the internet itself has no proper entrance. A lobby, a queue or an entrance is a promise. Promise of a future world, event, connection, or even an emotion, and a promise of the remembrance of something we lived and that we could love to experience again. But, we can only change our Zoom background photo so many times before we get bored, we need a new public space where we can connect, exchange and play with our friends. These virtual spaces need to be redefined as a kind of game that is both fun, sexy and engaging. We can’t take video parties and Mii conferences anymore.

It’s up to us as future-oriented architects and planners of urban spaces to rethink public space online.

Click the link to explore some of the research we conducted to define what are the building blocks of the fourth place during the first week of the course. 

Click the link to see the fourth place design outcomes for five different contexts