Inhabiting Educational Design
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The natural and built environments of schools have a profound impact on our understanding of the world and our place within it. Their role in shaping how we feel, think, and act, however, is often underestimated. As a result, static design solutions continue to dominate the educational landscape. Knowledge regarding the ways in which we inhabit educational design informs the dynamic potential of school architecture as pedagogy. The broad purpose of this study was to explore the lived experience of educational design. Research questions included: (a) What can be learned from the experiences of architects and principals involved in the design of two exemplary public schools?, (b) How do students and teachers experience the design of these educational environments?, and (c) How can their experiences inform educational design? A qualitative, phenomenological, case study methodology was chosen to investigate educational design from the perspectives of 29 students, 10 teachers, 2 principals, and 3 architects at two comprehensive schools (Grades 1–9) in Helsinki, Finland. Students and teachers took over 1600 photographs and selected 400 for discussion at photo-elicitation interviews. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with principals and architects. Analysis identified the theme at the heart of the data as a lack of congruency between the intended purpose(s) and users’ experiences of the design of their schools. This insight led to the development of the Educational Design Intentions (EDI) Model, which explores tensions within participant-identified design intentions and their implications for educational design. This study identified: (a) key insights regarding participants’ experiences of inhabiting their schools, (b) the need for post-occupancy evaluations, especially from an educational and humanistic perspective, and (c) how educators and architects can more fully inhabit a shared vision of educational design. Knowledge regarding the interplay between educational stakeholders and the design and use of their schools has the potential to facilitate change at participant schools, increase knowledge in the field, diversify school design, and focus future research.