Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm title=
The Munger Residence Hall would stand 159 feet tall, just below the height of UCSB's Storke Tower. | Credit: Courtesy
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This story was originally published by the Santa Barbara Independent and is reproduced here in partnership with Edhat.


By Tyler Hayden of The Independent

A consulting architect on UCSB’s Design Review Committee has quit his post in protest over the university’s proposed Munger Hall project, calling the massive, mostly-windowless dormitory plan “unsupportable from my perspective as an architect, a parent, and a human being.”

In his October 25 resignation letter to UCSB Campus Architect Julie Hendricks, Dennis McFadden ― a well-respected Southern California architect with 15 years on the committee ― goes scorched earth on the radical new building concept, which calls for an 11-story, 1.68-million-square-foot structure that would house up to 4,500 students, 94 percent of whom would not have windows in their small, single-occupancy bedrooms.

The idea was conceived by 97-year-old billionaire-investor turned amateur-architect Charles Munger, who donated $200 million toward the project with the condition that his blueprints be followed exactly. Munger maintains the small living quarters would coax residents out of their rooms and into larger common areas, where they could interact and collaborate. He also argues the off-site prefabrication of standardized building elements ― the nine residential levels feature identical floor plans ― would save on construction costs. The entire proposal, which comes as UCSB desperately attempts to add to its overstretched housing stock, is budgeted somewhere in the range of $1.5 billion. Chancellor Henry Yang has hailed it as “inspired and revolutionary.”

The dormitory’s nine identical residential floors would be organized into eight “houses” with eight “suites” (shown here) with eight bedrooms. | Credit: Courtesy

McFadden disagreed sharply with what the university has described as “Charlie’s Vision” for the benefits of a “close-knit” living experience. “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. “The Munger Hall design ignores this evidence and seems to take the position that it doesn’t matter.”

So far, McFadden continued, the university has not offered any research or data to justify the unprecedented departure from normal student housing standards, historical trends, and basic sustainability principles. “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.”


A typical bedroom with a false window. | Credit: Courtesy

McFadden explains he felt compelled to step down from from the Design Review Committee (DRC) after it became clear during an October 5 presentation that the dorm’s plans were already set in stone. “The design was described as 100% complete, approval was not requested, no vote was taken, and no further submittals are intended or required,” he said. “Yet 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.” This kind of outlandish proposal is exactly why the committee exists, he said.

McFadden draws striking comparisons between Munger Hall and other large structures to illustrate its colossal footprint. Currently, he said, the largest single dormitory in the world is Bancroft Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy, which houses 4,000 students and is composed of multiple wings wrapped around numerous courtyards with over 25 entrances. 

“Munger Hall, in comparison, is a single block housing 4,500 students with two entrances,” McFadden said, and would qualify as the eighth densest neighborhood on the planet, falling just short of Dhaka, Bangladesh. It would be able to house Princeton University’s entire undergraduate population, or all five Claremont Colleges. “The project is essentially the student life portion of a mid-sized university campus in a box,” he said.

The project is utterly detached from its physical setting, McFadden goes on, and has no relationship to UCSB’s “spectacular coastal location.” It is also out of place with the scale and texture of the rest of campus, he said, “an alien world parked at the corner of the campus, not an integrally related extension of it.” Even the rooftop courtyard looks inward and “may as well be on the ground in the desert as on the eleventh floor on the coast of California,” he said.


Each residential floor is divided by a single interior corridor branched by smaller hallways. | Credit: Courtesy

“As a project that pushes economies of scale, prefabrication, and an alternate project delivery process,” McFadden concludes, “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.”

UCSB spokesperson Andrea Estrada said while the university was grateful for McFadden’s service on the review committee, his comments on the Munger proposal and his resignation won’t stop it from being built. “The Munger Hall project and design is continuing to move forward as planned,” she said in a statement. “We are delighted to be moving forward with this transformational project.”

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Monkeybrain Nov 02, 2021 05:19 PM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

That picture is cringe-worthy. At UCSB? Gimme a break.
It's a hideous monstrosity that looks like it was designed by the Soviets in East Germany during the Cold War.

Zenyatta19 Nov 02, 2021 01:55 PM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

In a place where a college campus is located on prime real estate with some of the most beautiful views of the ocean and surrounding community, this design is so bizarre. It makes no logical sense. An earlier commenter was correct when they said this has to be a social experiment. A very expensive one. UCSB has lost much credibility with the surrounding community over the last 10 years. It’s time for leadership to change.

dukemunson Nov 02, 2021 11:57 AM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

Some quotes via CNN article from this billionaire (thinking/trying to find a nice word...failing)...narcissist...

"When an ignorant man leaves, I regard it as a plus not a minus," Munger said about the consulting architect in an interview with CNN Business Monday. "He's just plain wrong."

"No, I won't do it. I'm ready to die very shortly," He said. "But I do expect this dorm will be copied four more times on the USCB campus and many more times than that on the other campuses on the UC system and I expect this to spread all over the country. It's a better mouse trap."

dukemunson Nov 03, 2021 12:23 PM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

Yes, because we should base merit and ability in any/all fields based on net worth. If he wants to fly the plane home should we let him...he's certainly more successful than the bum of a pilot.

PitMix Nov 02, 2021 03:55 PM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

Who's more successful, a UCSB architect, or a financial industry billionaire? I don't remember people coming from all over the world to marvel at UCSB's architecture.

a-1635865373 Nov 02, 2021 08:02 AM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

Are there any other buildings at UCSB that are 11 stories tall? How tall is that? I mean it will really look like a huge cruise ship got plopped down in the middle of campus.
What are all those windows in the architectural rendering? Decoration?

dukemunson Nov 02, 2021 11:20 AM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

People pay to go on a cruise in which they are rarely in their room during the day and....(drumroll) it's for 5-7 days total and the constraints of how ships can be constructed means there has to be windowless rooms! There is a reason that "inside" cabin rooms are far and away the least desirable cabin on the ship (and as such a fraction of the cost).

dukemunson Nov 02, 2021 11:18 AM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

Pit - You are correct...we truly might not share the same planet, as it clearly seems as if the whole point of this (as per what Muenger has said and is doing) is a vanity project for a wildly unqualified in this realm billionaire. Having windows in the bedrooms does not change or effect the cost (or energy) on any meaningful scale, he's just decided that the limits cruise ships have in windowed cabins (due to the constraints of how you can build a ship), should for some crazy reason be replicated in a building. Clearly, the world over, credentialed architects are designing buildings to be "green" that have windows in their bedrooms. There is no logic to this project, other than it's a "free" 200 million dollars for UCSB. The project is incompatible with SB and Goleta. This project might make sense if there was no real estate available for UCSB to build upon...but UCSB has multiple spots available to build. Multiple green buildings make much MUCH more sense for SB than this monstrosity.

PitMix Nov 02, 2021 10:49 AM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

Duke, read what Munger said about it. The whole point of it is to house a bunch of people with low construction and energy costs. If that doesn't address global warming, then you and I don't share the same planet.
Go big or go extinct.

dukemunson Nov 02, 2021 08:51 AM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

Pit - this project has absolutely no bearing or relationship with global warming (or the fight against it) in ANY capacity…seriously… what are you talking about???? UCSB has the room to build two or three dorms that actually fit in with the surroundings that will be at least as green and won’t be 159’ albatrosses… THIS PROJECT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH GLOBAL WARMING!!!

PitMix Nov 02, 2021 08:05 AM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

The exterior rooms with windows are common areas where students can gather. They only have to be in their rooms to sleep and study. Plenty of people pay plenty of money to go on cruises like this.
If the whining on this site is any indication of the sacrifices we are willing to make to address global warming, I think we are headed for a mass extinction.

GoletaChick Nov 01, 2021 06:11 PM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

Kudos to Dennis McFadden for his integrity.

UCSB officials' prostrating themselves to uber-wealthy donors like Munger is nothing new, but this vanity project goes beyond questionable ethical practices to complete disregard for the community. As a UCSB alum and former UCSB staff member, I witnessed development officers falling over themselves to close millions in capital campaign donations from Hollywood producers whose f*ckup kids couldn't get into UCSB otherwise and from old bags who opined that "UCSB is letting in too many n*ggers." To these folks, Munger's blight on the community be damned as long as they meet their numbers and keep their jobs.

The 4,000 students' tenure in the new San Quentin of Goleta will be short term. The rest of us Goleta residents will live with this 11-story blight for the rest of our lives. So what now?

UCSB alums: When the UCSB Annual Find calls and ask for donations or mails you a solicitation, tell them you won't be donating until this billionaire's vanity project is killed. For you wealthier alums who are considering "remembering UCSB in your estate planning," this applies double to you. If enough alums do this, your feedback *will* get to the administration.

Current UCSB students who will be alums by the time the cell block is completed: See above.

City of Goleta residents: Contact your city council here: https://www.cityofgoleta.org/city-hall/mayor-and-city-council/council-contact-information and the Coastal Commission (South Central District) here: https://www.coastal.ca.gov/contact/#/

a-1635808922 Nov 01, 2021 04:22 PM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

"Munger maintains the small living quarters would coax residents out of their rooms and into larger common areas, where they could interact and collaborate. " I agree that students who learn to get along and collaborate with each other will benefit from this living experience, and isn't that what college life is all about? These types of dorms usually benefit from having live-in upperclassmen called Resident Assistants who keep the peace and they do it in exchange for free housing.

a-1635808111 Nov 01, 2021 04:08 PM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

The kids who may live in the dorm are there for maybe a semester or two, but have to re-apply for housing each year. They move out. They move in. It's ever-changing. When I went to school I barely ever went to my dorm and only to sleep. I was in lab most of the time or out with my friends on campus or town. And when I was in my dorm, I wasn't staring out the window. People who are calling this a prison are exaggerating and have obviously never been to college or lived in a dorm. UCSB has one of the most naturally beautiful campuses in one of the best climates the world with plenty of opportunity to be outside most of the year.

dukemunson Nov 01, 2021 05:25 PM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

They are in there for 9 months. And again… 11 stories and the rooms don’t have windows???? This is either absolute cluelessness by a billionaire…or a sick joke…

Thankfully I don’t see anyway this can or will ever be built.

mahneke Nov 01, 2021 02:13 PM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

Check out what he is doing to/for the U of Michigan grad students. I would wait and see how that turned out before doing this abortion. Too tall, has no windows, prison cells have more space, 2 exits? Really, and 200m on a 1.5Billion estimate. (Check out how much of the total cost he paid UofM ) Our dear old Yang gladly took 200m, and said this crazy design was "inspiring and revolutionary" You have to go to a third world country to find a density greater than this proposal. It sure fits in okay to Megan Harmon who said she likes it. (how did a dipstick like her get this well paying and important gig?) Fire marshals please put a stop to this dangerous proposal

Byzantium Nov 01, 2021 01:03 PM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

Cruise ships for a long time have very few inside cabins. Most are now window or balcony. Inside cabins can be used as study halls, media rooms, or extra storage rooms, leaving only the window or balcony rooms for student residents.

a-1635870363 Nov 02, 2021 09:26 AM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

High efficient heat pumps powered by solar energy is very efficient and it can heat and cool the building. The pre-fab nature of the pods makes them very efficient to build and can be highly structurally sound. That makes the embodied energy of the building less of burden on the environment. The one building replaces four or more (potentially?) buildings that are more traditionally built dormitories.

sacjon Nov 01, 2021 04:20 PM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

BYZ - this is not in any way I've read being billed as "green" housing." How is it green if it requires constant AC? Windows, by their nature, are "green" as an alternative to AC and fans blowing constantly. Just because it's high density, doesn't make it green, it makes it GREED-based. Less windows = lower costs.

Did you even bother to search "green housing" to even look for what they're actually billing as green? No, of course not. You just came in here to twist this into another anti-liberal rant, but you didn't really come prepared now, did you?

https://www.dwell.com/collection/unbelievably-green-housing-developments-a87922e1

https://www.google.com/search?q=green+housing+projects&rlz=1C1GCEB_enUS950US951&sxsrf=
AOaemvJmEU8F1hcbFs6catVLI6F3CcqcjA:1635808475185&source=
lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&sqi=2&ved=2ahUKEwjeldW4pfjzAhW4p5UCH
W4LBBoQ_AUoAXoECAIQAw&biw=1920&bih=937&dpr=1

dukemunson Nov 02, 2021 08:55 AM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

Yeah I’m not sure how’s why Pit has turned this into a global warming issue. UCSB has the room to build several dorms that create 4500 beds without going (bedroom) windowless 159’ tall directly next to the airport on the small road by the police station. This is a crazy solution that really only makes sense if you have total tunnel vision (and commitment to receive!) the 200 million crazy strings attached donation.

sacjon Nov 01, 2021 05:46 PM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

DUKE - not so fast..... looks like PIT supports it. As for BYZ, not sure if he supports it or is just trying to complain about something, anything. Thinking the latter.

Byzantium Nov 01, 2021 12:13 PM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

Earthquake codes must apply in California. Assume this was built into this plan. Certainly highrise buildings built near oceans and salt air got a new look after the Florida high-rise collapse. Don't confuse safety with lack of amenities. Sacrifice personal needs for the greater good is the ethos of the day. Every student cubicle built in IV opens up a housing unit somewhere in town, for those who also demand to live here.

Byzantium Nov 01, 2021 12:08 PM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

It's not easy being green. We love telling the rest of the world how they are supposed to live, and do with a lot less. Yet we howl at the inhumanity of it all, when Chinese style mega-housing hits our own shores. This is what happens when the Green New Deal meets Evergrande.

Byzantium Nov 01, 2021 11:58 AM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

Anthem of the Seas can house over 6000 passengers, off shore. People pay to be on board with these same dorm type conditions and call it a vacation, so why not buy some of the current mothballed cruise ships at bargain prices since many of them will never sail again. Cabins, dining, and recreations space and plenty of access to the outside air, that easily handle thousands of people at the same time. . A bonus for an ocean side campus. Teach students practical repair and maintenance skills, and discount their room rates.

letmego Nov 02, 2021 10:38 AM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

Maybe I'm a dinosaur, but I did most of my college studying in my dorm room. With the windows open for fresh air, until winter time (in the frigid north). I used the light from the windows to study. There was room for friends to sprawl on the floor as we studied together.

A better design would be like family student housing - groups of buildings with courtyards. I'd say cut this building down...you can still pre-fab the "houses", just each building would be a few "houses" attached lengthwise so everyone gets a window.

But Munger is too full of himself to allow this to happen.

sacjon Nov 01, 2021 03:26 PM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

PIT - why do you support small, windowless rooms? These are human beings. I had small windows in my crammed dorm room, but at least they were there and could be looked out of, opened to get fresh air, etc. Living in the dorms doesn't need to be a punishment.

PitMix Nov 01, 2021 03:20 PM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

Townie, during my college days we were in our dorm rooms to study and sleep. Classes were elsewhere, dining halls were elsewhere, sports clubs and activities were elsewhere, parties were elsewhere. Most serious students spent a lot of time in the library alcoves and desks so they could concentrate. Really the lack of stimulus in this housing design is not necessarily a drawback unless your idea of a dorm is a sports bar.

SBTownie Nov 01, 2021 12:49 PM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

Cruise ships were literally Munger's inspiration for the idea no one needs windows. Guess he didn't realize most people are on a cruise for a week; these students will be without windows for 4 years.

Someone should tell him the navy gives a multi hundred question screener to determine who will be fit for submarine service. And a lot of people will not make the cut. UCSB should give a psychological screener to see who can survive for 4 years without windows.

PitMix Nov 01, 2021 10:24 AM
Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

To be fair, Edhat should publish an article from someone in support of the project. My guess is that the design minimizes the energy requirements of the construction and operation of the building. Probably this is the kind of project that we will have to support if we have any hope of addressing climate change so it does not destroy the earth as we know it. Yes, we would all love to have single family homes on 2 acres in Montecito. Most of us will never have that, and it is not feasible for everyone to have that.

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