Why can some huts be locked from the inside?

Yesterday, Federated Mountain Clubs published an informal facebook post. It noted an experience at Blue Range Hut, in the Tararuas, where the overnight inhabitants had locked the door from the inside.

Most of the discussion under that post has been about whether it was poor form for the people who arrived first to lock out late arrivals. General consensus, which I agree with, is that it’s very poor form if it’s done with intention to keep others out.

More significantly, though, it’s had me wondering about why any public back-country hut can have its door locked from the inside. What’s the legitimate purpose, if any, of allowing those inside to lock others out?

There’s some great design theory on affordances, which transcends everything from physical design to computer user interface design. Donald Norman was the first person to apply the concept of perceived affordances to everyday design. He’s a big advocate for designing things in such a way so that it’s intuitively obvious how they’re meant to be used, optimally without needing to rely on complex language to explain it. Doors meant to be pushed shouldn’t have a handle which looks as if it’s meant to be pulled, and so on. He has a speedy web description of perceived affordances, but his book titled “The Design of Everyday Things” is also an excellent read.

In terms of back-country hut design, the very fact that there’s an obvious way to lock the door from the inside means that some people will take the suggestion that they should. Maybe they’re half asleep and not thinking whilst closing the door in the evening. Maybe they don’t realise that it can’t be undone from the outside. Maybe they’re not familiar with regular protocols of allowing others in, and take the possibility as a sign that it’s expected that the door be locked. Or maybe it’s simply a malicious action, and the presence of a lock makes it possible. Sooner or later, it will happen.

I can’t think of many public back-country huts that can be locked from the inside, and now I’m wondering if there is a valid reason for it. Or is the case of Blue Range Hut just an unfortunate design?

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