Three key elements for good wellbeing indoors are natural light, fresh air, and greenery. These are usually given, but they would be kept away from students of University of California, Santa Barbara at a new windowless mega dorm.
In sponsoring US$200 million to help alleviate UC Santa Barbara’s student housing crunch, billionaire philanthropist Charlie Munger insisted that he’d only back the project—expected to be worth US$1.5 billion—if the university went with his design. Only thing, it won’t be your typical dormitory. Munger Hall, as the proposed complex is called, would pack 4,500 students into a windowless, 11-story complex measuring 1.68 million square feet.
The building’s living spaces would be segregated into eight single occupancy bedrooms. The Los Angeles Times also reports that 94% of Munger Hall’s residents would be restricted of access to natural light or fresh air.
Munger, the vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and a close associate of Warren Buffett, has been outspoken about his interest in architecture. His closest brush with building design, prior to designing for colleges, was real estate development.
Image via UC Santa Barbara
“[Munger’s] offers [to backing schools] come with a caveat: Schools that want his money have to accept his ideas about building design, too,” the Wall Street Journal’s Nicole Friedman and Jason Zweig reported back in 2019.
In place of functioning windows, the 97-year-old businessman proposed a knob that students can twist to adjust the degree of lighting entering their rooms. He said the building’s artificial windows would be akin to Disney cruise ship portholes where “starfish come in and wink at your children.”
Munger’s unusual ideas drove consulting architect Dennis McFadden of the school’s design review committee, where he’d served for almost 15 years, to resign from his post. In his resignation letter, leaked on Imgur, McFadden said he had witnessed the proposal from the perspective of “an architect, a parent and a human being” and felt it to be a “social and psychological experiment with an unknown impact on the lives and personal development.”
(left) A room in Munger Hall vs.
(right) A cell in a Norwegian prison pic.twitter.com/eHoNIw5WBX
— Casey Ho (@CaseyHo) October 29, 2021
In an LA Times op-ed, McFadden likened the dormitory’s living conditions to “a janitor’s closet buried at the center of an IKEA warehouse, with the closest window somewhere back at the entrance.”
The architect’s thoughts are echoed on Twitter, where users have compared Munger Hall to the fully-walled, warehouse-like building used to run the gruesome challenges in Squid Game.
Ucsb students waking up in the morning at munger hall pic.twitter.com/3sTmIprQzS
— drew$ki (@androoskio) October 29, 2021
move-in day at the new UCSB dorms pic.twitter.com/wcBbCLk9yO
— Charles Louis Richter (@richterscale) October 29, 2021
In spite of overwhelming complaints, UC Santa Barbara is still pressing on with Munger’s plans. Spokesperson Andrea Estrada said that the incorporation of both single occupancy rooms and communal areas would give students the chance to socialize while respecting their privacy.
The floor plans on this are absolutely insane. pic.twitter.com/rMn0QR51Eu
— Spokane Rising (@spokanerising) October 29, 2021
“It is meant to build community, encourage peer-to-peer interaction, promote engagement and relationship building, foster an environment of learning and support, and provide necessary resources and amenities to support a 24/7 on-campus living experience,” justified Estrada.
Addressing concerns that the absence of windows would withhold ventilation and thus present risks of COVID-19 should the air get infected, the spokesperson said that exhaust air would not be trapped between rooms, and that it would be vented outside. “One could argue that this may be an improvement in air quality as it does not require a student to open the window for fresh air,” Estrada added.
(for those not on Reddit) here’s someone’s review of their time living in UM’s Munger Hall pic.twitter.com/vx5NB5om93
— lil nas x fan account (@venenodulcex) November 2, 2021
This content was originally published here.