Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega-Dorm

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.”


Written by Tyler Hayden

What do you think?


0 Comments deleted by Administrator

Leave a Review or Comment


  1. Our University system and UCSB need to lower the number of students being admitted. Then you can cut down on the oversupply of faculty and other workers, which will help to control over -population of Goleta and surrounding areas. The University is running wild and naked and we are tired of it.

  2. Munger should have to eat his own dog food. Remove the windows on his Montecito condo and give him an artificial light. Yang can move from his nice house on campus to a cell somewhere in the center of the Hunger Hall, along with Spokesperson Estrada.

  3. Kodak has or had a big training center in Virginia to teach wold wide customers how to maintain their copiers. It had the same idea. Rooms were worse than a Motel 6.
    Designed to force students out in to common areas. No TV in room. In an age before laptops and wifi and smart phones. No privacy. Bathrooms down the hall. Like in the Military. With Open Concept toilets. Op[en Concept showers. Open Concept sinks. It is just part of the retraining process. Minus haircuts.
    But the Kodak grounds were many acres – deer roamed freely. grassy lawns. etc.
    Seems Munger rhymes with Lunger. Or one comment omitted TB from a list
    of close quartered diseases. It will be like living on a Navy Aircraft Carrier. But
    different. The three shifts not share the same bed. Hopefully the new dorm not
    have AC nor Heat – but windows open to get the fresh air breezes? And just one
    HVAC in the basement – underground parking?
    And fire escapes. Slides? Ropes?
    And where does the staff live? How many? They will take an Amtrak Commuter train to work? Or plan is to add a dock for ferry boat traffic.
    May be time to relocate UCSB to Santa Maria or Lompoc. And get more than 200
    million for the property. SB needs a more Villages?
    Seems the Snafu was in accepting the ‘gift’ with the rules. Who did that? When?

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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?

  8. It is simply the physical manifestation of the current demands for mono-ideology group think common on many college campuses. You shall all think alike, act alike, and now live alike. Shut off from all outside forces that disturb this necessary internalized conformity. Perhaps Munger was having a little inside joke here.

  9. Right… because those are the only two options available. The UCSB dorm capacity was halved because of Covid… let’s not over react and green light this ridiculous project (it’s the size of storms tower!). This project needs to be half the size, with another building planned and a forced freeze (to the maximum degree allowed) on admittance until they come online.
    I think they are humoring Muenger…with the thought/hope that in 3-4 years when this project has stalled they can still get the money and build something at 1/2 scale.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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!!!

  14. 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.

Search and Rescue Practices K9 Training

Teen Brothers Provide One Million Meals Countywide