First, there was Satyam Cinemas – a perfect place to head to after bunking college. A cold coffee, some popcorn and we were set for the next two and a half hours of relaxed movie watching.
Then, there was Zen Cafe – a quiet haven of a place for a warm cup of coffee, a reading nook and some conversations.
Later, there was Prithvi Theatre with its store of plays, lit fests and a Suleimani chai for the breaks.
Three different cities, three different types of places. The thing in common – each was a space where my friends and I felt an intangible solace and a sense of community.
Every time we’d be there in this haven, everything would seem right in the world. It was our kind of space with our familiar faces. We belonged to it and it belonged to us.
It was our third place.
The Third Place
Sociologist Ray Oldenberg first championed this concept in his work 'The Great Good Place'. He elaborates that "...daily life, in order to be relaxed and fulfilling, must find its balance in three realms of experience. One is domestic, a second is gainful or productive, and the third is inclusively sociable, offering both the basis of community and the celebration of it. In order for the city and its neighbourhoods to offer the rich and varied association that is their promise and potential, there must be (a) neutral ground upon which people may gather. There must be places where individuals may come and go as they please, in which no one is required to play host, and in which we all feel at home and comfortable."
And so, he proposed the concept of the third place to offer this sense of belonging.
So, what exactly is the third place?
The concept of the third place has existed since the history of the human race. From the campfire around which hunter-gatherers recounted their stories and thriving penny universities to today’s Starbucks and hipster cafes, the third place is a communal space where people find what Georg Simmel referred to as 'pure sociability'.
Spaces where people get together not for a sense of purpose, duty or to fulfill a role but to experience 'joy, vivacity, and relief'. These are places beyond home and work/school which attract us to spend hours at a stretch congregating with like-minded people, engaging in conversation and growing as human beings.
Third places act as “anchors of community life” and foster creative interactions to build your network and make new acquaintances.
These spaces have a lot of common characteristics – they offer a neutral territory, foster conversations, are accessible, act as levellers, attract regulars, are wholesome and not fancy, have a playful vibe and act as a home away from home. Many places around us fit this bill – from pubs and bookstores to malls and clubs. In our modern world, even virtual third spaces are not uncommon. Remember the popular Second Life? Or the fictitious future Ready Player One describes through the OASIS? People are spending quality time online and these virtual worlds could qualify to be the third place too! For instance, many online multiplayer video games allow virtual interactions through in-game characters called avatars. Usually, there are tons of discussion boards and groups that crop up around these games that build a community around them. There are always regulars who set the standards and practices in these communities and these virtual communes are as much a “usual haunt” as any neighbourhood cafe.
That apart, the virtual world has also become the third place for many remote workers, digital nomads and work-from-homers who find any wifi accessible public space– like cafes, libraries, community centres, coworking spaces, coliving spaces, etc.– as a comforting balance between workspaces and homes. Here the third place is the perfect cocoon that allows you to be among people but without social contact while interacting with a remote audience with whom they work.
NewCampus as the third place
When we rebranded and launched NewCampus, we knew we wanted to be the third place in the lives of our community. We were a space for congregation and habitual learning, where regulars frequented and there was always a possibility of meeting new kindred spirits. Our focus was not just learning, but also to foster a community driven by curiosity, kinship and a growth mindset!
So, when we set out to build NewCampus as a physical colearning space, we took into consideration all the characteristics that helped us become this third place:
- We offer a neutral territory that encourages discussions and focuses on learning and community. We regularly host free events that are open to the public to expand our network of lifelong learners
- Conversation forms the crux of our space. We foster conversations between global leaders and our community and within the community. We are strong believers of the fact that great ideas begin with discussions
- Our colearning spaces are located across accessible spots in Singapore and well-connected to the public transport network
- Our only prerequisite is curiosity! Unbiased, we are open to embracing anybody from any section of society as a learner.
- We have a stream of regular colearners whom you’d meet every other day. We are forever expanding our reach within the city and so, you are bound to meet new faces all the time too!
- We host classes within the buildings of our coworking space partners. These are comfortable, warm and wholesome places that give out a welcoming vibe
- The whole idea of NewCampus fosters a group of curious people getting together to learn about the changing facets of the world. Sometimes, this means understanding complex topics. So, we offer bite-sized education to break down the large picture into understandable chunks. And we vet our class content to make them engaging and full of play. Many of our classes are hands-on workshops that are a whole lot of fun!
- Often, we hear our community members recount that they “came to learn and stayed for the community.” We believe in creating a fun, friendly and approachable school of learning. Here, it doesn’t matter what you are, what work you do or how much you have climbed the social/financial ladder. This is a school for learning where we explore the changing world as a community of learners (or colearners)
We have our work cut out for us in transforming NewCampus into the third place that we want it to be. For instance, we want to explore newer markets and create more accessible, wholesome and fun schools of learning. We want to open small schools of learning within the second space of work – our B2B partners’ offices. There is plenty more we want to do to establish learning as a fun third space.
The road ahead is long and tough. But then we are a curious lot at NewCampus!
Cover Illustration: Lily Wu