Engineering space into place
To understand why certain programmes are successful I turn to the distinction that is made between space and place in the variety of social sciences. In general terms space is used for the literal coordinates that define a space. Place is the constellation of cultural and historical elements that are expressed in and attributed to a space. "Places are not physical containers of human presence, but the main expression of human presence itself." (Spagnoli & Gamberini 2004, 49). It can be home, a special caf, a good playground in a park, the houses of parliament or a school. Some places only exist online in chat rooms like MSN, in online games environments, in companies' intranets and in certain environments on the World Wide Web. All places are also space. Some spaces are also place. When one creates a good conference, one tries to create a true place. The crucial network has to be gathered from the variety of communication flows, as will be argued in the case study about the Seropositive Ball. The culture of the participants has to be expressed through language, design and orchestration. Only then will a space turn into a place. When it really works out well, participants remember this sense of place, this connectedness between personal, social and historical awareness of one's own life in connection with other lives, now, before and in the future. Many guests of Paradiso, having been on the podium or having been in the audience, remember moments they spent in Paradiso.
The space is changed every time a new show takes place. For every show, light, sound and projections shape the space and contribute to the creation of the specific sense of place that characterizes a specific group of artists, audience or issue-based gathering. The sense of place only exists in the specific time frame in which the show is taking place. During some concerts the audience will experience 'magic' in the air, and during certain lectures the charisma of the speaker fills the space. In this sense Paradiso functions like a classical theatre. Dramaturgical theatre laws are applied for the creation of the performance place. When organizing a conference or a networked event, in which a new sense of place is meant to come about, these dramaturgical laws are also important. They not only have to be applied to performance elements of the show, but also to the possible participation of the attendants and participants of the conference or networked event. Many conference organizers do not realize that they are not only staging a play, as a conference organizer one also acts as a 'cultural architect' or 'cultural engineer' of spaces in which participants have to be capable of creating their own sense of place.
These moments when place evolves touch people in their heart and minds. Visitors and others do not realize the elaborateness required to create this time-based place-ness. The traces are subtle and fleeting. The next show happens the following day and new people take over the building and make it their place. It is only at that moment with those people present in the space, doing that certain thing that 'it' comes into existence. Nevertheless, when the experience is intense, the memory lingers and new alliances will continue to materialize. When a sense of place has evolved, when people have experienced each other's and their own sense of presence in a profound way, a conference or a manifestation can become an event that people will refer to many years later to explain what happened to their own life as well as to developments in general.