Does Design Matter? The Elementary School Building Environment Through the Eyes of a Child. How Demographics Impact Student Perception of Space: A Comparison Between an Old and New School

Room: E143-144

Audience: Educators

Call to Action:  Formulate the ‘Why’ of this research for yourself. Gather data from the district for the unique demographic make-up of the specific school with which you are working and ensure that any data gathering is inclusive based on this data. Find a champion(s) within the school / district (administrator, equity leader, principal) to assist in gathering the right demographic sample of students, getting family permissions, scheduling the interviews, and working through suggestions for changes. Bring a person on the team that understands how to collect, analyze, and report out the findings. Incorporate changes in your practice based on your findings.

Abstract: Does design matter to students? Does all the time, effort, and dollars spent on a new or refreshed school facility impact teaching and learning in the positive way we hoped? How do demographics shape the student and parent experience in our own community? Wouldn’t it be great if we could compare the differences between an old and replacement school with many of the same students and see if there are any differences in measurements of student success as well as attendance rates of staff and students? How can equity be improved based on the findings? We had the privilege of conducting this research with one of our own schools in partnership with our local school district, and these are just a few of the questions that motivated us to do this study. As architects, educators, and other partners move towards transforming the educational landscape, it is essential to not only bring our knowledge about best practices to the table but to include authentic student voices in our processes right from the beginning. How much do we really understand about how a third-grade student from a low-income family of recent immigrants experiences their elementary school building in comparison to students of differing demographics? We implemented a process that could be used to gather vital information from a demographically diverse sample of students in our own district. We had the opportunity to start this research just before they moved from their old school to their new replacement elementary school. In comparing both the old and new schools, we were able to use methods that included young students and were reflective of the true diversity that is found in our public schools.

This session will cover what prompted the research, how the project unfolded, the unique methods we used for collecting elementary-age student input, and highlights of the results. We will also discuss how it can inform best practices for teaching and learning, and how this information can support our schools in prioritizing future planning efforts. Attendees will hear from the architect, the researcher, and school district administrators on how this research informs equity in design and impacts student learning.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Be equipped to seek out the nuances of how demographics shape a student’s experience of space and implement that understanding in the planning and design of your own projects.
  2. Understand how to work with a district to conduct and analyze this research and respond to findings.
  3. Provide a useful tool to support schools / districts in their advocacy for building better school facilities and inform best practices on how teaching and learning are impacted by the built environment.
  4. Be aware of ways to support end users in understanding the intent and vision of new spaces, how these things matter to young students, and how their understanding can impact equity in student teaching and learning. See how partnerships between architects and educators can mitigate these issues.
Karen Knauss, AIA
Karen Knauss, AIA
Associate Principal, LSW Architects

Karen thrives on leading a team of owners and stakeholders in developing a cohesive and inspired vision for their learning environments. She has led the design and documentation efforts on numerous educational projects over the course of her 30-year career and is driven by curiosity and the desire to facilitate the understanding of, and equity in, the built environment. Her most recent efforts include research on the demographic perception of space in the K-12 environment and designing materials that guide and enhance the user experience in newly constructed spaces.

Karen Diller, PhD
Karen Diller, PhD
Associate Dean of Library, Bellevue College

Karen spent much of her career in academia thinking about how library space can be designed to support student learning. She quickly learned that the first step was to determine how to include authentic student voices in the process. Centering her doctoral work on this problem and experimenting with methods at her own institution (WSU Vancouver) encouraged Karen to advocate for better and more inclusive methods to capture student input into space planning projects.

Core Competency

Educational Visioning
Exhibits an understanding of best and next practices related to educational leadership, programming, teaching, learning, planning and facility design. Establishes credibility with educators, community members and design professionals while conceiving and leading a community-based visioning process. Demonstrates the ability to articulate the impact of learning environments on teaching and learning and uses that ability to facilitate a dialogue that uncovers the unique needs and long-range goals of an educational institution and its stakeholders – translating that into an actionable written/graphic program of requirements for the design practitioner.

LearningSCAPES 2024 Conference in Portland, Oregon


Oregon Convention Center
777 NE Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd, Portland, OR 97232


October 16-19, 2024


+1 480.391.0840