CSCI1300 Critique Journal #1: The Door to the Porch

The dorms in Young Orchard offer several improvements over my previous living situations, one of which is a secluded porch with a picnic table, which my roommates and I share with our next door neighbors. However, the door to this area is often finicky.

Figure 1. The door in question.

First, the door has no handle on the outside — only a lock that slightly protrudes from the door just enough so that one could grip it and use it as an impromptu handle to open the door. Other times, the door will lock itself while we are outside, stranding us out of our own room. This is because, perhaps upon closing the door initially, the handle on the opposite side of the door accidentally rotates so that it is horizontal, locking the door entirely (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. The indoor handle must stay in this vertical position exactly, or else the door locks.

This is a frustrating occurrence, requiring that one of the roommates carry his ID card and room key on him at all times in case we need to go around to the front of the dorm and get back into the room through the front door. Recently, we have resorted to taping over the lock (see Figure 3) so that it can never lock itself, but that janky solution opens up a trove of safety issues.

Figure 3. The janky solution.

In regard to the first, less pressing issue concerning the lack of an outdoor handle, I imagine that the designers of the door felt concerned about a ground level door with easy access from the street. The lack of an outdoor handle could act as a layer of obstruction against intruders. Without an object with which to firmly grasp the door, a theoretical intruder might spend longer opening the door and would, hopefully, be discouraged from his or her pursuit. The tradeoff here is security over student accessibility. This has an understandable motive, as Brown University would rather its students be safe than have a mildly more convenient time opening a door.

This brings me to the second issue — that of the auto-locking handle. Like the explicit lack of an outdoor handle, this auto-lock mechanism was probably designed to be an additional layer of obstruction against intruders. Those who should have access to the room from the outside (i.e. my roommates and I) might be expected to have the room key at all times. However, the inclusion of a picnic table in this space creates a conflict, as it endows the porch with an inviting air of safety and casualness that clashes directly with the paranoia of the door design. Thus, it is an easy mistake to forget one’s keys when, say, doing homework out on the picnic table. Once again, it makes sense that Brown University would value absolute security of its students over accessibility.

However, there are ways to make this auto-lock mechanism less confusing while maintaining its security. Rather than an auto-lock mechanism that depends on the position of the indoor handle, I suggest an indoor door handle that can be easily locked from the inside by either a push-button or thumb-turn deadbolt, as well as an outdoor door handle that can lock and unlock this deadbolt via key (the same mechanism that we use for our front door). That way, a student would be able to conveniently open and close the door from the outside. At the same time, a student will not be mistakenly locked out of his or her own room, and the security against intruders from the street will be maintained (albeit, with the responsibility for this maintenance being shifted from the University to the student).

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