Architect resigns to protest billionaire Charlie Munger’s plan for windowless dorms at UCSB
An architect consultant for the university’s Design Review Committee resigned in protest against the project, in a resignation letter obtained by CNN Business and reported by the Santa Barbara Independent.
“The basic concept of Munger Hall as a place for students to live is unbearable from my perspective as an architect, parent and human being,” California architect Dennis McFadden wrote in the letter. McFadden declined to comment further to CNN Business.
The UCSB campus is located on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean and has its own beach. Its beachfront location is an integral part of the campus culture and identity – and Munger Hall doesn’t reflect that, McFadden said.
While the dorms themselves don’t have windows, the exterior of the building does, allowing natural light into the common living areas.
“Even the rooftop courtyard … looks inward and may just as easily be on the ground in the desert as it is on the eleventh floor on the California coast,” McFadden wrote.
Besides being Warren Buffett’s right-hand man, Munger is an amateur architect. He has no formal education in the field.
“Architecture is a field where tastes vary, and everyone thinks he’s an expert. And there are never two architects to agree on anything,” Munger told CNN Business.
Munger, the 97-year-old vice president of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, has donated $ 200 million to UCSB to fund the dorms, with the caveat that his designs will be followed. He wanted the dorms to be tiny and windowless to encourage residents to spend more time outside in common areas, meeting other students.
“While the chamber may be ‘just good enough’, the entirety of the experience makes it exceptional – ‘our city in the sky’,” the UCSB Design Review Board report said. ‘October.
This did not suit McFadden.
“As a ‘vision’ of the single donor, the building is a social and psychological experience with unknown impact on the lives and personal development of the undergraduates the University serves,” McFadden wrote.
The Munger Hall plan includes an 11-story building that would provide more than 4,500 beds for undergraduates. Each residential floor would have eight “houses”, each containing 63 students. There are eight suites in each house, and each suite has eight single beds – window not included – as well as two bathrooms and a common area.
The rooms do have man-made windows, however, which Munger says resemble the man-made portholes on the Disney cruise ship where “starfish come in and wink at your kids,” the Santa Barbara Independent reported.
The UCSB said in a statement that the building project and design will proceed as planned. The university added that all of its current housing projects are guided by a campus plan, which was “developed through an extensive participatory process on campus with the help of Urban Design Associates.”
“When this thing goes up and becomes an extreme hit, which is absolutely inevitable, I think there will eventually be more buildings like this on the UCSB campus,” Munger said.
McFadden wrote in the letter that Munger Hall’s population density would be slightly lower than part of Dhaka, Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated cities in the world. There are only two entry and exit points.
“The project is essentially the student life part of a mid-sized college campus in a box,” McFadden wrote. “Munger Hall is an experience of unprecedented size and density in student housing on this scale. “
The plan was designed by architect Navy Banvard, director of Van Tilburg, Banvard and Soderbergh. Banvard said Munger Hall is a collaborative process between UCSB, Munger and the design team.
UCSB, like other universities, is facing a housing crisis. The Daily Nexus reported in August that UCSB was short of places in university accommodation and had a waiting list of more than 1,000 students looking for a place to live.
“One of the reasons, and there are several, for the project is to meet the University’s substantial housing needs,” Banvard said. “Quality and affordable housing for students in a very competitive housing market. “
Munger’s grandson is a former UCSB student.
“I am a product of education, of public education,” Munger said. “And I know how important the schools and the architecture of the schools are, so naturally I drifted into creating dormitories.”
The project is expected to open in fall 2025 pending approval and certification in 2022 by the California Coastal Commission.
This is not Munger’s first adventure in dormitory architecture. Munger Graduate Residences at the University of Michigan follows a similar concept. The high-density dormitory, which also mostly includes windowless rooms, was funded by a $ 110 million donation from Munger.