Third Place Ethnography
A Third Place is a place that we frequent that is not home or work, but some environment that enables us to find flow, recharge, and renew. Based on the book "The Great Good Place" by Ray Oldenburg, I studied two places in Austin to discover what makes them Third Places.
1. Austin Public Library
I chose the Central Branch of Austin Public Library located at 710 W Cesar Chavez St as my Third Place. Austin Public Library (APL) is a dynamic community centre in the middle of Austin which aims to provide easy access to books and technology and build a community.
Austin Public Library is a six-story architectural marvel made accessible by intersecting bridges and stairs which foster serendipitous human connections.
People of all ages visit the public library with their belongings to spend time and engage in various activities.
The huge space offers a variety of seating options which people can choose from to talk, read or work.
The library is spacious, greatly furnished and very well lit leveraging the powerful Texas sun.
Austin Public Library levels all the social hierarchies and encourages people to relax, converse and engage with each other.
Activities: People streaming Youtube, watching movies, observing others, drinking beverages, munching on snacks,
Environment: Library is resourceful and furnished very well. It houses thousands of books, hundreds of computers and provides quality furniture and sufficient artificial lighting. It has several large glass windows and doors which let the sunlight to flourish inside.
Interaction: People are comfortably seated in their chairs and are busy exploring the internet. Some have their headphones on, while some are engaged with each other. People are distributed across space and indulged in different activities.
Objects: Furniture, wooden bookshelves, wooden ceiling, computers, backpacks and polybags belonging to the visitors, various lamps.
Users: In this section, there are mostly adult men. This working space is close to the Non-fiction book section which is generally unattractive to kids.
Emotions: Their body language suggests that they are comfortable and relaxed in the space. However, the conversation could be a stimulating one which is turning people's heads.
Interviews with The Regulars
68 years old Shihhsin is a resident of Austin who loves coming to Austin Public Library.
Since his retirement from his work, he has started visiting the library more frequently than ever. He visits the library 4 to 5 days a week and typically spends 6 hours per day.
When asked what brings him to the library, he says "Internet and Religion Books".
"It's a beautiful library!"
He visits the library once or twice every week. He likes picking up books from here. He was picking up HTML/CSS books to build his own website.
He also visits the University library sometimes, but the walk from the bus stop to that library makes it less accessible for him. He never uses a computer at this library as he has one at home. He likes to look around and check out books.
When asked about his favourite thing about the library, he immediately responded, "Everything! It's a beautiful Library!"
"Totally worth it!"
Daniel and Meghann
Daniel and Meghann decided to take a break this day. They went for a movie, had lunch and still had two hours to spare before they had to go back to their baby. They decided to visit the library to enjoy the weather, relax and have coffee.
When asked about what they like to do at the library, they answered, " We like to have meetings here, buy stuff, have drinks, wander around bookshelves, and just relax! We have to travel a little but it is totally worth it!"
The rooftop garden is one of the most coveted places in the building to curl up with a book or witness stunning views of the Austin downtown skyline.
Although Austin Public Library has a starkly different infrastructure from that of a regular home, it provides a sense of comfort and belonging to its regular clientele which makes it a great good third place.
2. Mozart's Coffee Roaster
Mozart's Coffee Roasters is more than just a coffee shop located by Lake Austin. They offer home-roasted coffee and desserts.
It is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.
Mozart's offers a handsome variety of choices in beverages and desserts. Hence, it is an attraction for people who enjoy these, at all times of the day.
The different sizes of coffee cups available are displayed at the counter to provide visual cues for the customers. There is a coffee motif mural on one of the walls. All these elements and more reflect that coffee lies in the very essence of Mozart's cafe.
A low profile
Mozart's provides a great lake view overlooking the hills on Lake Austin. However, in totality, Mozart's maintains a low profile. It has outdoor seating on the deck as well as indoor seating with glass walls.
There are ample wooden tables and benches to accommodate hundreds of people. The vast lake and the docks in the view are objects of wonder for people sitting on the deck. The dated and outworn furnishings are plain and unimpressive. This plainness brings out the homeliness in Mozart's.
The trees bring relief from the strong sunlight. The hanging lanterns, small plants and assorted eclectic furniture adds to the rustic and idyllic feel of the place.
A home away from home
Activity: Man is stretching his leg on the bench with his headphones on, a woman has her headphones on. Both of them seem to be working on or watching something on their laptops. Drinking and eating.
Environment: It is early evening as can be seen from the shadows. It is still very sunny. The patio looks dated and the benches look roughly crafted and worn out. This suggests that this place is very old.
Interaction: The man and woman are working although not interacting with anything else.
Objects: The furniture, lamps, plugs, tree and railing in the background. On the front table, there are sunglasses, highlighter, bag, laptop, notebook, hydro flask. The laptop screen is open. It seems like someone has been sitting on this table, but has gone away for a short time.
Users: A man and a woman.
Emotions: Those two people are focussed on their work but their body language is relaxed.
Interviews with The Regulars
"I am more productive here. It is also very relaxing."
A resident of East Austin, Aasha, likes to come down to Mozart's once a month to get away from the busy lifestyle. She comes here with her friends sometimes, but usually she likes to be alone. She says she is more productive here. However, when probed further, she admitted that she just likes to relax and enjoy the weather and the quiet.
"I like listening to the birds while working."
Amy and Courtney
Two school teachers, Amy and Courtney, were visiting Mozart's for the first time as they were out. They wanted to work and have good coffee at the same time. They looked up nearest coffee shops on Google Maps, liked Mozart's pictures and decided to visit.
When asked what do they like about Mozart's so far, both of them said "The view!" at the same time. Courtney was particularly excited to try the coffee and desserts. She said that she also likes the rustic feel of the patio and listening to the birds while working.
Mozart's is more than just a coffee shop. It's an experience. It levels all the social hierarchies and its plain ambience brings a homely character to the place. People come from all walks of life to participate in a collegial atmostphere, indulging in conversations ranging from ambitions and plans of the future to the comforting discussions surrounding the mundane characteristics of everyday life, all the while overlooking the tranquility of Lake Austin. It's not to say that this place isn't for the lone wolf, looking for a serene environment to focus while sipping the beverage of choice.
It is lowkey, it is playful, it is helping conversations flow. It is a great good third place.