My dorm room sucks, so does yours.

Look around you, bad architecture is everywhere.

Lon Y Law
5 min readJun 4, 2018

Yesterday was a hot and sunny day, 23 degrees celsius to be exact, not something you would get in the north of UK. It was not a big deal since to me since I was not planning to go out, but after lunch I started to feel the heat (it took quite some time since the insulation is reasonably thick) and it was only then that I realised how bad my dorm room was.

My first step in the attempt to get rid of the heat is to open the window, but the hinge only turned around 20 degrees before the stopper kicks in (safety reasons perhaps), leaving a gap big enough to let daddy longlegs and the smell of cigarette to come in but not enough to get rid of the heat. My second attempt was to turn on the exhaust fan above the cooker, unfortunately all it managed to do was blowing up the dust. The last resort was to open the door, yet I immediately realised there was not even a ventilation system in the corridors. With no other options I went outside and decided not to come back after dinner.

On my way back after dinner, I started to pay attention to other student accommodations as well and turns out almost every one of them were similar, all built with the same method, paying less or even no attention to the quality of living, in simple terms — bad architecture.

There are three things that are crucial in achieving a good quality of living: Sunlight, ventilation and interaction. These qualities not only shape the characteristics of a space but also greatly affect human behaviour.


We all love sunlight, that is why window seats are always taken first, be it a restaurant, a plane or a library. It not only provides us warmth but also a sense of comfort.

“When sunlight hit special areas of the retina, it triggers the release of serotonin in the brain.”

You might have heard of melatonin before, the hormones that helps you sleep and are only released in dark environments. Serotonin is the opposite of melatonin, hormones that our body release to make us feel more energised. They increase positivity and relaxation, meaning you will have a better mood and are likely to be more focused. In simple terms, serotonin is the day hormones and melatonin is the night hormones.

This is why sunlight, or ‘natural lighting’ if you ever talk to an architect, is extremely important. In old times openings were carefully crafted since technology was limited. Yet with modern building technology, glazing is everywhere, and yes, everywhere except dorms.

The only window in my room

What you see above is the only source of natural light that I get in my room, along with 150 other rooms in the 2 buildings on the site. Normally windows are situated near places where we spend the most time, a desk, a dining table or a bed. Not only it is not the case here, the window is actually in the worst place possible -next to a mounted television, reflecting almost everything outside. Then there is the ventilation problem.


What if I tell you that yawning is actually not a sign of boredom but our brain trying to keep paying attention? When we inhale, oxygen is taken by red blood cells to bring it to every part of our body. One of the major user is our brain, an estimate of 20% of the body’s total inhale. When oxygen is not enough, the brain finds a ways to supplement it and that is where yawning comes in. Yawning is caused by the lack of fresh oxygen, which is caused by poor ventilation in the first place.

There are two types of ventilation, active and passive. Active ventilation relies on the use of extractor fans and passive ventilation relies on the pressure difference in air and wind to ventilate a room, being both cheaper and more environmental friendly.

Passive ventilation can also be divided into three different types, single side, cross flow and mixed cross flow. As their names suggest, single side means there is only one opening, cross flow is two opposite openings and mixed cross flow being the stack of multiple cross flow systems used in large spaces.

Room Floor plan

In a typical construction of studio-sized flat, it uses both active and passive ventilation to keep the supply of fresh air by placing the opening on one side and the exhaust on the other, achieving a similar effect as a cross flow ventilation. In my room however, the exhaust fan and the window forms a short path in the middle of the room, pulling air directly away as it enters the room, creating no current and leaving multiple areas of the room with no fresh air.


We humans are social creatures, yet no matter how hard universities encourage students to go out there and meet new people, their student accommodations are doing the exact opposite, isolating students into tiny cells behind heavy 2-hour fire rated doors.

Corridor of my accommodation

The problem start with the use of a central core. Though is a common way to build modern high rise buildings, it is obvious that design was not a part of the formula. Even with ‘attractions’ like study rooms and lounges, it lacks the local interactions. Study rooms and lounges are shared among hundred of residences and are almost always occupied, turning down potential users and thus lesser interactions. The introduction of floor-based interactions, from small interactions ignited from a shared vacuum machine to having a built in lounge on each floor increases the interactions on a floor level. When local interactions are achieved, then we can look at cross level interactions, multi building interactions etc.

Building under construction that uses a central core and outside bracing

All the matters pointed out above are not wrong, but just the result of mass and fast construction and pure disappointment. By using a central elevator core, concrete floors can simply be attached to the core and braced on the outside, then what is left is to attach the insulation, inner and outer finishes, and voilà, a finished building in just months.

With a little more attention to details, student accommodation can be a pleasant place to live, rather than just a room to sleep. Yet real estate developers chose to minimize the cost, to use the easiest building method and to maximize profit.

With hundreds of highly adaptive teenagers, student accommodations could have been the best place for architectural experiments, ranging from new timber building methods to vertical gardens, and of course the hottest talk in town — Co-housing.

Thanks for reading. I am a second year student studying architecture in Northumbria university. Feel free to get in touch or check out my website.