Beautiful and striking non-places

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Winter mountains near the Königsee in Bavaria

Examples of striking and effective locales, such as a harmonious clearing in the forest, or a beautiful mountain valley, are not necessarily places in my sense of the word. Criticisms of places often confuse harmonious character with social grammar. Whether a place produces a feeling of appropriateness and completeness is a different issue from whether or not its grammar of action is complex, useful, humane, liberating, and so on. Some places with wonderfully unified character have had very oppressive social grammars; do we not feel a bit queasy looking at the Pyramids or Versailles?

In separating a place's social grammar from the quality of its unified place character I have no intention of downgrading the long heritage of skills and perceptions that allow architects and designers to create places whose character aids and confirms their social role. But the social role of a place, while it is enhanced by good design, is not automatically destroyed by bad design. Too many discussions of contemporary places confuse these dimensions.