A consulting architect at University of California, Santa Barbara has resigned in protest over a mostly windowless mega-dorm financed and designed by billionaire Charlie Munger, slamming the project as a “social and psychological experiment with an unknown impact.”
The university has said the dorm was designed by Munger, the 97-year-old billionaire Warren Buffett pal, who donated $200 million toward the project on the condition that his plans be followed exactly.
The 11-story, 1.68-million-square-foot structure would house up to 4,500 students, 94 percent of whom would not have windows in their small, single-occupancy bedrooms, based on Munger’s design.
But in his Oct. 25 resignation letter, Dennis McFadden ― a well-respected Southern California architect who’s been on the university’s design review committee for 15 years ― bashed the proposed design.
“An ample body of documented evidence shows that interior environments with access to natural light, air, and views to nature improve both the physical and mental wellbeing of occupants,” he wrote, according to the Santa Barbara Independent.
“The Munger Hall design ignores this evidence and seems to take the position that it doesn’t matter.”
The university has not provided any data to support what McFadden said is a departure from basic sustainability principles and student housing norms.
“Rather,” he said, “as the ‘vision’ of a single donor, the building is a social and psychological experiment with an unknown impact on the lives and personal development of the undergraduates the university serves.”
He added that “in the nearly fifteen years I served as a consulting architect to the DRC, no project was brought before the committee that is larger, more transformational, and potentially more destructive to the campus as a place than Munger Hall.”
He added that the dorm would qualify it as the eighth densest neighborhood on the planet, falling just short of Dhaka, Bangladesh.
For perspective, it would be able to house Princeton University’s entire undergraduate class, he added, or all five Claremont Colleges.
“The project is essentially the student life portion of a mid-sized university campus in a box,” he said.
“As a project that pushes economies of scale, prefabrication, and an alternate project delivery process,” McFadden goes on, “Munger Hall offers an answer to the question of how to resolve the housing shortage and growth pressures currently facing the University.
“As a design solution and a campus building, however, the project will long outlive the circumstances of its origin and will impact the life of the campus and the lives of its students for multiple generations.”
Munger, for his part, has characterized the design as “our version of ship architecture on land” for its efficient use of space and for having nearly everything a resident could want, including a market, gym and classrooms, available on site.
UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang has hailed the design as “inspired and revolutionary,” saying that it will let the university expand student housing by 50 percent.
It’s not the first time Munger has commissioned a controversial public university building.
The Munger Graduate Residences Hall at the University of Michigan stoked concerns when its design was proposed in 2013, with students saying that the seven-room apartment design and focus on community living did not fit a graduate student lifestyle.