Cecelia Liu

Architecture & Mental Health:

A case study on London university accommodation design and its effects on student stress and wellbeing

Architecture has always been discussed and appreciated in terms of its purpose and design, both in terms of functionality and aesthetic value. However, regardless of its intended function, the primary objective of architecture is to provide care for people from multiple perspectives. Architecture, as man-made structures, has become a crucial element of human life, as we spend most of our time in these spaces for various activities like work, learning, socializing, and relaxation. The physical and aesthetic characteristics of these spaces can influence our emotions and behaviour, thus impacting our mental health and overall well-being. Recent research has shown a growing interest in how architecture affects mental health and well-being, highlighting the importance of considering the impact of the built environment on human health (Tawil et al., 2021).

Residential spaces are closely linked to people's daily routine, health, and mental well-being, making it crucial for architecture and space to provide care for the occupants. University students are a prime example of this, as they often face numerous challenges when transitioning into adulthood and living independently for the first time. The uncertainties of living alone and the pressures of academic life can lead to feelings of loneliness and stress, highlighting the importance of architecture in promoting emotional comfort and security.

This dissertation explores the importance of architects considering the psychological needs of occupants in their design of university accommodations. It is crucial to create spaces that foster positive emotional experiences and promote mental well-being. According to HSEA statistics, the number of students enrolling in higher education has been increasing steadily. In general, 42.8% of students report different levels of anxiety, and 33% state feeling isolated and lonely during their time at university. Within these statistics, international students were more likely than average to experience difficulties with accommodation-related issues and homesickness. Understanding how students interact with their environment can inform the design process, leading to a more optimized approach that promotes psychological health and well-being.
Based on my personal experience as an international student, I found living in student accommodations to be extremely challenging, especially during the pandemic. I recall a conversation with a friend about my first year in a student dormitory, where I repeatedly expressed feelings of isolation.

“Living in student accommodation during the winter in London is so challenging. The constant wind and rain made everything feel so gloomy, and the short daylight hours

were really tough. The only sunlight I got was from this tiny window in my room, which was barely enough to keep me going. It was pretty common to have classes that started after lunch and ended in complete da

rkness. I remember feeling completely drained of energy all the time. I wish I lived in a high-rise building where I could soak up more sunshine.”

“All the classes were online in my first year, there were limited chances to meet new people, and the accommodation did not have many social events. I found myself cooped up in my small room most of the time… I have to say, I've never felt more isolated."

In my experience, the design and management of the student accommodation failed to provide adequate support for my adjustment to the n

ew weather and environment. The limited space, absence of windows and furniture, and other spatial designs and management contributed to feelings of loneliness and stress, particularly when living alone in a foreign country. While the pandemic undoubtedly played a role in exacerbating these issues, this essay does not delve into this topic due to word constraints. However, studies conducted by other scholars have found that extended periods of e-learning and social isolation can have negative effects on the mental health of young students, resulting in symptoms of depression and stress (Rutkowska et al., 2022).

In light of the issues highlighted, this dissertation examines the relationship between the architectural design of student accommodations and the health and wellbeing of their occupants. This dissertation will mainly use personal experience and qualitative research data obtained to analyse the experience, perceptions, and perspectives of UCL students living in accommodations in London.


Tawil, N. et al. (2021) “The living space: Psychological well-being and mental health in re-sponse to interiors presented in virtual reality,” International Journal of Environmental Re-search and Public Health, 18(23), p. 12510.
Plummer, H. (2016) Experience of architecture. Thames & Hudson Ltd.
Rutkowska, A. et al. (2022) “Mental health conditions among e-learning students during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Frontiers in Public Health, 10.