Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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New Zealand learning environments: The role of design and the design process

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posted on 2021-11-15, 01:03 authored by Alsaif, Fatimah Mohammed

Learning environments are important spaces because these are where primary school children spend many hours. These environments can vary from single cell classrooms to modern open plan learning studios. As the design of these learning environments can affect the learning outcomes of students, their design and the design process behind them are important fields of investigation. Involving the users of learning environments in the design process is an important factor to be considered. Studies overseas stress the importance of involving teachers and students in the design process of learning environments. However, studies about learning environments in New Zealand show less consideration for the internal layout of classrooms and the involvement of users in their design process. Thus, this thesis studies and compares the design process behind learning environments in New Zealand with those overseas and the effect of this involvement on the design of primary school internal learning spaces, specifically classrooms. The aim of this thesis is create an understanding of the design process behind primary school classroom learning environments in New Zealand.  To achieve the aim, this thesis undertakes five phases of study. The first phase is surveying primary school teachers and architects who design educational spaces, about the design and design process of learning environments in New Zealand. The survey results show that both teachers and architects support participatory design in schools and wish for more student user involvement. The second phase is a trial using social media to encourage more teacher and student participation in designing learning environments. Wordpress and Facebook groups were used for this experiment and teachers and students of primary schools in New Zealand were invited to participate. The trial result appears to indicate that social media does not work in encouraging students and teachers in thinking about the design of learning environments in general without having a specific project as a focus. The third phase is a workshop gathering five teachers and one architect to discuss the detail of the design process behind learning environments in New Zealand. The workshop result suggests that again participants support participatory design but suggest the need for guidance on how to do this, possibly from the Ministry of Education. The fourth phase is a case study of the early stages of a re‐build project for Thorndon Primary School in Wellington city. The case study included interviews, focus groups, observations, and collecting documentation. The main conclusion from the case study is that all parties to the project were in support of participatory design but would have benefitted from guidance as the whole design process and user involvement in it is unclear. The last phase is also case studies but here the focus is on the design process for rearranging the internal layout of two classrooms in two primary schools in Wellington city. The case studies covered observing the involvement of students in the design process, some classroom and brainstorming sessions, and interviews with teachers. The main result of this phase is the observation that students enjoy working on the design of their own environments and that they are able and ready to work as part of such a design process.  The key conclusions of this thesis are that all parties involved in this research supported user participation in the design process, but in all the cases investigated there is almost no proper participatory design; students enjoy designing their learning environments and that enjoyment makes them belong and connect to these more; and proper preliminary guidelines for participatory design in learning environments could improve and encourage user involvement in designing learning environments in New Zealand.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Interior Architecture

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970112 Expanding Knowledge in Built Environment and Design

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Vale, Brenda; Mackay, Christina