Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Faculty of Education


A substantial body of literature describes the aesthetic and visual impact of architecture in contemporary schools, the processes by which architects apply personal and professional knowledge to the design of educational facilities and the ways in which educators use buildings to deliver curriculum. Despite the growing body of literature, few empirical studies have researched the impact school building design has had upon the creation of effective learning communities within schools.

This study sought to address this gap in the school design research by investigating the relationship between school design, the learning environment and learning communities in new schools. The study explored the way in which the design of physical space and the creation of a learning culture is negotiated, factors that influence the design of schools and the intricacies of how educational facilities influence learning cultures. This research also considered the influence of leadership on the creation of effective learning environments.

I used a multiple case study approach with three K-12 schools from the New South Wales non-government sector. Data was collected through a number of methods, including surveys, interviews, photographs and observations. The data was systematically analysed using a constant comparative method. The findings of the study were compared to the current literature on learning communities, leading to a framework or model for articulating the relationship between the built environment and learning community cultures. The study also identified the importance of school context when designing its learning environment and certain key influences on learning environments, especially the impact of constraints, masterplanning and affordability. The perspectives of each of the stakeholder groups (teachers, students, college managers and educational leaders) of the learning spaces varied according to the role these spaces played in individuals’ daily work lives. Through cross-case comparison, the study identified a number of factors that contributed to building effective learning environments. These factors were: information technology resources; space; flexibility; control and physical comfort. The research also highlighted the impact a collaborative style of leadership and the centrality of the role played by the school principal in the design process.

There are a number of recommendations that have been made as a result of this study. The most obvious being the need for increased teacher training and professional development programmes in the area of using space as part of a pedagogy and the development of policies relating to the establishment of new schools that take into account an individual school’s context when designing the learning environment. The study also proposes a model for understanding the relationship between the physical learning environment and the classroom by positioning the student and their learning at the centre of the relationship.