"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

College students in Austin, Texas have been living in windowless rooms for years — which is why town finally decided to ban them.

In the past few years, town of Austin, Texas has approved its construction. Thousands of rooms without windows In recent apartment buildings next to the University of Texas at Austin.

Most of those rooms are being leased to UT students, leading to a Their ill health.

In April 2024, the Austin City Council finally Voted to ban the construction of windowless bedrooms..

Like Professor at UT's School of ArchitectureI see this ban as a belated but welcome development. For 25 years, I've given my students an task called “My Window,” where I ask them to attract a bit of the window in my bedroom. In 2021, some students began telling me that their room didn't have a window.

I used to be surprised because as an architect, I had at all times assumed that windowless bedrooms were illegal. Some students began sharing with me pictures of their rooms and what dozens of scholars described as their terrifying experiences living in them.

Adverse effects on mental health

A standard criticism is the event of “disturbed circadian cycles” and “depression and fatigue.” They attempt to avoid their rooms as much as possible. One student told me about experiencing “unbearable isolation and claustrophobia because of the four walls.” Another said, waking up.Every morning with restlessness

As soon as I learned that windowless bedrooms were being in-built Austin, I started advocating to ban them. I even have asked town council to take motion. Letters And In Option Adds. I even have educated myself on this issue and shared my thoughts with architects, professors and students in quite a few venues.

Students have also develop into energetic. In the spring of 2023, they fled A survey Comparing the experiences of scholars living in rooms with and without windows. Students who lived in rooms without windows scored lower in all categories on the a. A well-known scale that measures well-being..

In September 2023 [letter to Austin’s City Council]762 students demanded ban on windowless rooms. “Our city's negligence in defending its citizens is being weaponized by developers for profit,” he wrote. He also identified that windowless rooms are illegal in cities like New York City and Madrid.

In fact, windowless bedrooms are illegal in New York City – as in major cities world wide. A percentage of the room's floor area, laid out in each city's constructing code, determines the minimum window size. In New York City, every bedroom will need to have a window area. at least 10% the scale of the ground area of ​​the room; in Madrid, 12%; and in Mexico City, 15%.

In Austin, that number has been 0% until essentially the most recent ban.

Why? There's a straightforward reason: Austin, like most cities in America, follows the International Building Code, and that code has a glaring loophole. of that Lighting sections states: “Every space intended for human occupancy shall be provided with natural light through exterior glazed openings in accordance with Section 1204.2 or artificial lighting in accordance with Section 1204.3.”

The code then goes into great detail on the particular requirements for every situation. But the word “or” leaves the door open for some developers to interpret the code to mean that natural light is optional.

To protect themselves from these developers, cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C. have closed the loophole by simply replacing the “or” with “and” of their adoption codes. Austin is finally doing just that. Recently approved Code revisions will ban windowless. Bedrooms when it takes effect on May 20, 2024.

Putting profit first

Unfortunately, developers have already taken advantage of this loophole and built 1000’s of windowless bedrooms that may soon not be legal to construct but might be legal to lease.

Rooms without windows This did not result in reduced rent. For students in Austin. Additionally, during my two-year campaign to ban windowless rooms, no developer spoke in favor of them before the Austin City Council.

They are quietly constructing them while they’ll because there may be student housing. Very profitableAnd much more so when windowless rooms are allowed.

how come Because a big constructing, with interior rooms away from the facade, can achieve more interior space with a smaller proportion of exterior partitions, that are dearer than interior partitions.

A vulnerable population

UT architecture student Namratha Thirikuttam summed up the plight of her peers living in windowless rooms: “Students are a demographic that developers know they can take advantage of.”

University of Texas at Austin student in a windowless room.
Joan Miro

“We don't have as much money. We don't have as much status in the world. We don't have as much experience with the things we've been through, so it's very easy to take advantage of us,” she said. told the Daily Texanthe official newspaper of UT Austin.

Attracted by the proximity to campus, students in windowless rooms Try to cope With abundant room decoration, circadian rhythm LED lighting, mental therapy or medication.

For example, one Exchange student from Spain Someone who unknowingly leased a windowless room contacted me for help. He told me that, being an illegal in his hometown of Barcelona, ​​it never occurred to him that the room he leased before arriving in Austin could be windowless.

He described his anxiety and deteriorating mental health after only just a few days in his unit. When I wrote on his behalf to his constructing manager to request a room with a window, he replied: “We don't promise windows in any of our rooms. Like other buildings within the Austin area. Windows will not be promised. Shockingly, their leases also don’t disclose the absence of windows.

Like immigrants from New York City Buildings in the 1850s, UT students are left to fend for themselves. Austin has thwarted them by approving the development of 1000’s of windowless units.

UT, a Top ranked public universityhas failed them by The university is not providing adequate accommodation. And by remaining silent through the campaign to ban windowless rooms. According to a press release obtained by The Conversation, the university's position relies on the proven fact that West Campus “falls within the jurisdiction of the city of Austin.”

My take: Yes, nevertheless it's your students who’re asking for help.

And architects have failed students by arbitrarily designing windowless rooms. In doing so, the architects have missed certainly one of them. Basic instructions of the American Institute of Architects: “Considering the Physical, Mental, and Emotional Effects on the Occupants of a Building.”

A hallway with painted floors illuminated by light bulbs.
Some UT students walk down this hallway to access their windowless rooms in a brand new constructing on West Campus.
Joan Miro

Changes are requested.

The experiences of scholars living in windowless rooms in Austin should function a cautionary tale for officials who regulate constructing codes. If windowless rooms are already illegal in your city, keep it that way. If they will not be, ban them as soon as possible. If not, students and other vulnerable populations akin to immigrants, the elderly and low-income people will at all times be potential targets for developers.

In the meantime, and to guard these populations, I'm working with other concerned architects across the U.S. to shut loopholes on the source, somewhat than counting on each city to switch its codes locally. would close it, by directly amending the International Building Code, as Austin had just done.

It's a slow and bureaucratic process, but, ultimately, the message needs to be clear: having natural light in buildings needs to be a human right, not a developer's selection.