Picturing Meaning: Icelandic Students' Perceptions of their Purpose-Built School

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Peterson, Anna
Educational Design , Photo-Elicitation Interviews , Post-Occupancy Evaluation , School Architecture
Current trends in education and school architecture reflect a growing awareness of the interconnectedness of people and spaces. Spaces acquire meaning through the experiences of those who use them and can contribute to the development of a sense of place. Purpose-built schools have long been valued and built in Iceland. The broad purpose of this study was to explore Icelandic students’ perceptions of their purpose-built school. Specific research questions included: (a) What spaces in purpose-built schools are important to students? (b) What happens in these spaces? (c) What meaning, if any, do these identified spaces hold for students? and (d) In ascribing meaning to some of the identified spaces, do students develop a sense of place? This phenomenological research initiative used an emergent design methodology. Seven Grade 9 and three Grade 10 students were recruited for this study. Primary data sources included students’ photographs of important school spaces, individual photo-elicitation interviews, and walking tours. Participants identified 25 important school spaces and 7 issues of concern within these spaces. Further analysis examined participants’ complex construction of importance and meaning. Participants described that school spaces were more likely to become meaningful places, when the design of the educational facility was in harmony with students’ experiences. The results of this study should raise awareness of the importance of building such schools in Canada and encourage the inclusion of students’ unique perspectives in the design of future schools.
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