A space with meaning: Children's involvement in participatory design processes

Alessandro Rigolon

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


This article takes the position that space as designed is a material setting for learning, accommodating specific functions, while people can give meaning to space through their engagement with it, making it a place. This approach specifies that an essential characteristic of a child-centered design method is the active participation by children, teachers, and family members in planning elementary and middle schools. Since space is given meaning by its occupants, the actual users have to be included in the project: as children and their teachers and parents become active stakeholders, the spaces envisioned by professional designers can become "places" with their own special meanings and suited to the special needs of each community. The way of involving children in such a process should be age and culturally appropriate. Moreover, such participation in placemaking needs not end when the building is complete but can be extended into the life of the school. The article ends by proposing that learning environments should have "unfinished spaces" for children and teachers to manipulate and interpret, as a means to enhance a stronger involvement and attachment to spaces created by professional designers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-163
Number of pages13
JournalDesign Principles and Practices
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Child-centered learning environments
  • Participatory design
  • Space and place

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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