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In the 1960’s humanistic geographers started observing a perceived ‘placelessness’ in spaces where homogeneity (as a result of late capitalism, mass cultures, and technological advancements) replaced varied cultures and landscapes.

Realising the impact this had on human nature and experience, this pressing issue kick-started an entire new field of academic research into sense of place. Initially looking at the sense of place from a purely physical perspective, it was in the 80s that theories started to emphasise the human element in sense of place.

In 1981, Steele proposed a new definition. “Sense of place is an experience created by the setting combined with what a person brings to it” (Steele, 1981). Seven years later, Hay took this further and proposed to define sense of place as ‘individually based, but group informed, localised, personal means of relating to the world, transforming mere space into personal place’ (Hay, 1988, 160–161).

By integrating people as an integral part of an ecosystem, we have now reached a point where sense of place is considered to be organized into a four-dimensional model, which involves the physical environment, the psychology of self, and the sociocultural circumstance, all of which vary over the course of time. Beidler and Morrison (2016) describe them as follows:


The self

At the centre of all experience is the individual who is engaged in that experience. It is that individual who is central in understanding the transformation of space into place.

The environment

The environment, such as natural features, built landmarks, and character, is positively linked in relationship and interlaced with social experience. The need to preserve or maintain local vernacular and unique feature in developing or preserving the sense of place has been identified. Research has furthermore singled out three sources for sense of place. 1) The natural environment, as an important underlying determinant of the spatial and social structure. 2) The built environment facilitates communication. 3) The people and their social activities are the foundation of cultural identity.

Social interaction

Space gains meaning by social and cultural experiences. So the meaning and understanding of space is grounded in the daily routines of people in the space, memory, experience and social relations. This often is more significant than the physical attributes.


How little or long we spent in a space influences our conception of the physical environment, and the interactions one has in the space.



Josh Artus