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Place, Plato & Aristotle


Preface: Plato’s chora marks a paradigm shift away from ancient civilizations’ concepts of place, where genius loci took root along with their focus on cosmology to make sense of the world. Referencing Plato's Dialogues and Aristotle's Physics, Elizabeth Barlow Rogers offers the following for understanding place during the Classical period:

“[Plato and Aristotle] provide a philosophical substructure for the shaping of landscape space and the siting of architectural monuments within it” (p. 59).

Bust of Plato

Chora: I interpret chora as a formless space (for our purposes, a landscape that may or may not have clearly defined borders) set between ideas (how the landscape is interpreted) and tangible objects (structures, such as walls and buildings). This definition only scratches the surface. For landscape architecture, Greek cities were positioned within a chora but did not inhabit its entirety.  Instead, cities were internally well-defined, while external spaces within the chora were dedicated to religious sanctuaries.  As a whole, cities and their outer lying sanctuaries supported a sense of place.  To make things confusing, we can consider cities here as topos, where Rogers defines as “the Demiurge’s task is the fitting of forms, which are based upon abstract, geometrically determined, ideal Forms, into topos – in other words, the location of pattern-based matter in place within regional space, or chora” (p. 59).

Topos:  By contrast, topos are well-defined spaces with tangible objects.  The collection of structures defines both city and topos.  Regardless of their locations, the cities established a physical mark on the Roman Empire landscape by systematically constructing inward-focused urban centers with similar gridded formats irrespective of the regional sense of place.  What was built in one location could be replicated with efficiency in another.

To put their differences another way: “Plato was the artificer, Aristotle the ecologist, in a world in which individual and thinking man have arrived” (Jellico, p. 117), or rather, the artist and the pragmatist, respectively. We can draw a modern comparison, or, more appropriately, I will attempt to do so (I do not want to speak for academics who have a greater grasp of these concepts than I do). I think of Yosemite Valley as a chora, holding a tourist village and employee community with outlying structures like the community chapel in the woods.  By contrast, topos, used in a modern dystopian yet very real landscape, could be any big box retailer and adjacent fast-food restaurants in Anywhere, USA: efficient, replicable, and on brand.



Güney, Y.I. (2018). Explorations on "Chora." A+ArchDesign. 4(1), 19-29. Retrieved from

Jellicoe, G., Jellicoe, S. (1995). The Landscape of Man. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd.

Rogers, E.B. (2001). Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History. New York: Abrams.


Bust of Aristotle: "Aristotle transparent," image by Alvaro Marques Hijazo is licensed under Creative Commons 1.0 Universal Public Domain. Accessed on April 4, 2024.

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