UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla title=
At 1.68 million square feet, Munger Hall would be the largest dormitory in the world. | 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

UC Santa Barbara’s public relations machine has kicked into high gear to defend the university’s proposed Munger Hall dormitory, issuing a statement Thursday that highlights the anticipated benefits of the controversial, hyper-dense building concept while at the same time acknowledging its small, windowless bedrooms “may not be right for everyone.” Designer and backer Charlie Munger also rebuffed intense criticism leveled at him by architects across the country, calling detractors “idiots” and claiming in an interview with Architectural Record this week that those who actually study his models “go ape-shit for them.” 

The drawbacks of living in a 10-foot-by-7-foot space without a window would be offset by an attraction to the dorm’s large rec rooms and study halls as well as on-site amenities, such as a market, bakery, and fitness center, Munger told the magazine, explaining, “It’s all about the happiness of the students. We want to keep the suicide rate low.” 


Charlie Munger has derided his critics as “idiots.” | Credit: Courtesy

Munger, Berkshire Hathaway’s billionaire vice chair who is partially blind and has described architecture as “a kind of hobby,” said he simply doesn’t see the problem with windowless single-occupancy bedrooms. “It’s quite endurable, especially with good ventilation,” the 97-year-old insisted. “Nobody minds going into a basement restroom and peeing because there’s no window.” Munger is donating $200 million toward the estimated $1.5 billion project on the condition his plans are followed precisely. He worked with VTBS Architects out of Santa Monica to draft the blueprints. An opening date is tentatively scheduled for 2025.

UCSB’s statement, printed as a Q&A with former vice chancellor and project leader Gene Lucas, says Munger Hall ― which would house 4,500 undergraduates on a far edge of campus and at 1.68 million square feet would qualify as the largest dormitory in the world ― was envisioned “for those students who want the experience of communal and co-living, but also want the privacy of a single bedroom.” Those not enticed by the idea could live at the university’s other residence halls or in off-campus apartments, it reads. Critics point out, however, that many students will have no choice but to reside at Munger Hall, given the school’s acute housing shortage and the record-low availability of off-campus options in Isla Vista and other nearby communities.

The bedrooms without windows ― approximately 94 percent of the units ― would feature “virtual windows” with a “fully programmed circadian rhythm control system to substantially reflect the lighting levels and color temperature of natural light throughout the day,” the statement goes on. The concept was inspired by artificial portholes in the cabins of Disney cruise ships. Fresh air would be pumped in by a powerful ventilation system, and natural light would be available in common areas and kitchens. “We anticipate that when not in class, at the library, or participating in campus activities, students will spend most of their daylight hours in these common areas rather than in sleeping areas,” the Q&A says.

In response to initial descriptions by opponents that the 11-story building would have only two entrances and exits, UCSB clarified Munger Hall would in fact feature 15 smaller access points around its perimeter. “Exits and exit stairs are designed to meet and exceed fire, life, safety and building code requirements to ensure safe and quick egress from the building,” the university said. “Additionally, mass motion computer models of different emergency scenarios have been run to ensure exit times from the building during emergency exit conditions are acceptable.” 

Munger Hall attracted national attention this week ― inspiring articles and op-eds in The New York TimesThe Los Angeles TimesVICESlate, and USA Today as well as news segments on NBC and CNN ― after the Santa Barbara Independent reported one of its consulting architects had resigned in protest over the dorm’s massive size, lack of windows, and extreme density. Paul Goldberger, the architecture critic for The New Yorker, called the plans “a grotesque, sick joke — a jail masquerading as a dormitory.” 

In a separate interview with CBS MarketWatch, Munger again shrugged off the controversy, suggesting the pushback was based not on his design’s alleged shortcomings but on his vast wealth. “You’ve got to get used to the fact that billionaires aren’t the most popular people in our society,” he said. “I’d rather be a billionaire and not be loved by everybody than not have any money.” Munger previously donated $65 million to UCSB to develop a roomy residence hall for visiting physics scholars and gifted the university the 1,800-acre Las Varas Ranch. 


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

Also this week, a group of six architecture history professors at UCSB created a petition to stop Munger Hall from moving forward. Like other experts who have spoken out, the group took exception with the dorm’s “small, windowless cells” and complained no research had been presented on the potential psychological effects such a “radical” design would have on its inhabitants. The petition ― which has garnered more than 1,700 signatures, including those of noted architecture historians throughout the U.S. ― also challenges favorable comparisons made by UCSB between the dormitory and another of Munger’s mostly windowless designs, the Munger Graduate Residences at the University of Michigan.

“The two buildings are very different,” the faculty group stated. “Munger Hall at Michigan is for graduate students, is less than one-quarter the size (380,000 sq. ft. versus 1,680,000 sq. ft.), and offers roughly one bathroom for every bedroom, whereas the behemoth planned for UCSB undergraduates offers just two bathrooms for every eight bedrooms. (And the artificial windows are just as unpopular at the Michigan dorm as one might expect.)”

In an interview, Richard Wittman ― one of the petition’s authors who studied at Yale and Columbia and is currently an associate professor in UCSB’s Department of the History of Art and Architecture ― said there might be some validity to certain details of Munger’s concept, at least in theory. “Maybe,“ he said. “But let’s test it first. Let’s see some data.” As it stands now, the project is essentially a $1.5 billion experiment without precedent. “If this was any other project, you’d be laughed out of the room for proposing something on this scale with no research,” he said. Wittman also called out UCSB’s public affairs department, which has lauded Munger’s “sweeping” and “stunning” vision, for sounding at times “like the official organ of a totalitarian state.”

Wittman and his colleagues were quick to note that their opposition to Munger Hall shouldn’t be interpreted as a denial of the severity of UCSB and Santa Barbara’s housing crisis. “That crisis, however, is in significant measure a result of UCSB’s own failure to fulfill the housing construction promises it made in its 2010 Long Range Development Plan,” they said. The proposal smacks of a “deus ex machina scheme that aims to accomplish in one building what the university has neglected to do over the previous 12 years.”

This Friday, the Santa Barbara chapter of The American Institute of Architects articulated its own opposition in a letter to Chancellor Henry Yang, who has similarly described Munger’s plans as “inspired and revolutionary.” “As architects,” the letter reads, “it is our responsibility to positively design the built environment in ways that support the health, safety, and welfare of building occupants, respect the natural environment, and enhance the community at large.” The chapter believes “unequivocally” that Munger Hall does not meet any of those standards and that there is “no justifiable reason to proceed with the project as proposed.”

Meanwhile, Tommy Young, a fourth-year UCSB undergrad double majoring in economics and geography, has created his own petition against the dorm that has attracted nearly 10,000 signatures. Young said he was inspired to do so when he learned Munger’s designs had already received UCSB’s stamp of approval but with no public review. “I really just want community voices to be heard on this,” he said. “Students, alumni, parents, prospective students ― they should all have a say. They should all have input.”

Young was especially disgusted by Munger’s deflection that critics are simply preoccupied with his wealth. “It’s disingenuous,” he said. “No, people aren’t mad because you’re rich. People are mad because you’re forcing a design down their throats they don’t agree with, and you’re not willing to budge.”

Young noted few ― if any ― people outside UCSB and Munger’s camp are in favor of the project. “You’re not seeing any petitions pushing for approval,” he said. He also questioned Munger’s prediction that tiny bedrooms would lure students into bigger common areas. Young’s own residence hall has small rooms, he said, and its communal spaces are still dead zones. “UCSB needs to go back to the drawing board on this one.” 

While UCSB has approved Munger’s plan, it must still be vetted by the California Coastal Commission and the UC Board of Regents, where there will be opportunities for public comment. “I hope the administration listens,” Young said. “But who knows.”

Find all of our Munger Dorm stories at independent.com/munger-dorm.

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Chip of SB Nov 09, 2021 05:36 PM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

Love it! That's exactly what this proposed building is. It would not even be legal to house prisoners in this proposed structure. The UN human rights commission has minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners which require windows to provide natural light and ventilation. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/TreatmentOfPrisoners.aspx

a-1636499212 Nov 09, 2021 03:06 PM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

Please look at the Scoping Hearing - July 28, 2021 Presentation here: (scroll to bottom)
https://sam.ucsb.edu/campus-planning-design/current-projects/munger-hall
Looks like a nice place to kids.
Munger's only offering to pay a very small amount of the cost to build this. If it's his way or the highway, then let him pay for the whole thing. Then I'm all in.

Byzantium Nov 09, 2021 10:11 AM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

The more I see the challenges faced housing 5000 students on campus and seeing ugly, sprawling responses on other UC Campuses, the more appealing this large dormitory building is looking. What will rooms be renting for?

Stray Nov 09, 2021 07:23 AM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

“It’s quite endurable, especially with good ventilation,” the 97-year-old insisted. “Nobody minds going into a basement restroom and peeing because there’s no window.”

Just to clue you in, Mr. Munger: no one would pay tuition, room, and board to live in the equivalent of a basement restroom.

PitMix Nov 09, 2021 07:24 AM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

I lived in a basement once. It was cheap rent and I didn't have a lot of money. If windowless rooms was a fairly cheap option compared to other options in IV, how many students would be willing to put up with it for 4 years?

a-1636460904 Nov 09, 2021 04:28 AM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

Seems they have not begun the EIR. This will be interesting.

"... a Subsequent Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) to the Final
EIR for the 2010 LRDP (SCH #2007051128) certified by The Regents on
September 14, 2010 (2010 LRDP Final EIR1) must be prepared to evaluate the
environmental impacts ..."
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Gb5DVYUPyNj2JYla5B_dL4-Ke-joE000/view

The target EIR approval date is Feb. '22. Ooookay sure.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1IgEAYCEphg6x6WDQ8NQGuILqN31SA6LP/view

Links found here:
https://sam.ucsb.edu/campus-planning-design/current-projects/munger-hall

a-1636460379 Nov 09, 2021 04:19 AM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

Another consideration: It has no dining hall.

It is designed to contain a "market, bakery, eatery" and
"Also located on the 11th floor will be ... an Amazon-style market, a juice bar and café, a bistro, a large game room, and a demonstration kitchen so students can learn how to cook healthy meals.
https://sam.ucsb.edu/campus-planning-design/current-projects/munger-hall

So 4,000 freshmen fend for themselves, mostly. That'll be interesting.

A FAQ that addresses number of exits, powering the building, etc., from UCSB's perspective: https://www.news.ucsb.edu/2021/020455/munger-hall-qa

Byzantium Nov 08, 2021 04:40 PM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

These are not "living quarters" they are private sleeping quarters in a large student dormitory. building. Pretending they are full apartments with all amenities is the wrong starting premise. The "living quarters" are elsewhere in the building, with windows. Study areas are also provided. The design does force one to sort out what are reasonable and realistic student accommodation expectations when trying to respond to housing for 5000 students -- at what price per student? That alone could make or break the eventual acceptance of this novel design approach. Will these "living space" compromises make these units cheaper than other student accommodations or market rentals? Surprised this cost point was not part of the presentation.

sacjon Nov 08, 2021 04:00 PM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

“Nobody minds going into a basement restroom and peeing because there’s no window.” - Ummmm, these aren't "basement restrooms," they're living quarters. I wonder if he is aware of that. UCSB needs to do the right thing and squash this awful idea.

mp805 Nov 08, 2021 03:21 PM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

Trying to wrap my head around the size and scope of this Munger building in comparison to whats already there. Pulled from the UCSB site... The capacity of the Santa Catalina Dorms the 2 tallest buildings off El Colegio Rd in Goleta is (11 floors and 10 floors) and houses 1,475 students.

sacjon Nov 08, 2021 09:01 AM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

"It’s all about the happiness of the students. We want to keep the suicide rate low.” - what about the introverts or people with anxiety who don't like to or even find it extremely stressful to go out and mingle? Just ignore their mental heath and lock them up? Disgusting.

Eggs Ackley Nov 11, 2021 11:13 AM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

Bet most of you would absolutely lose your minds in a two week snow storm in the northeast. Better still try the north end of Scotland in mid winter.
In Santa Barbra a few consecutive days of dense fog takes an emotional toll on those who have never known truly difficult living conditions.

sacjon Nov 09, 2021 04:50 PM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

PIT- "obvious next step is to eliminate as many windows as you can to make the whole thing take less energy" - Yeah, you can also eliminate heating, cooling, running water, fire retardant systems, etc as well to cut on energy use....... smh. Have you taken a look at any "green housing" developments? NONE are eliminating windows. Why? Because humans need them.

https://www.treehugger.com/does-going-net-zero-really-mean-buildings-will-have-no-windows-5071401

PitMix Nov 09, 2021 03:39 PM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

Sac, didn't you see my post where 30% of energy is lost through windows? Given that most large buildings have non-opening windows so that the heating/cooling system can operate efficiently, the obvious next step is to eliminate as many windows as you can to make the whole thing take less energy. Line the rooftop with solar panels and who knows, maybe you can make the whole thing run off the grid! Unless those students start mining bitcoin.

a-1636500811 Nov 09, 2021 03:33 PM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

At the end of every hall, there is a large gathering room with huge windows. Look at the presentation. Kids don't have to go far to see outside and the point of this project is to house as many kids as possible in one place for efficiency and expense. If they built 10 separate dorms all over campus (if they could even find the space for them), the campus would look like a labyrinth - not to mention the higher cost to build). They go to school on one of the most gorgeous campus in the country, so they will get to be out in it more by placing this huMUNGERous building out on the edge of campus.

a-1636495294 Nov 09, 2021 02:01 PM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

In many dorms at other universities, they allow different floors to be dedicated to students with similar interests / majors. Ideally, students would be able to choose their 8 friends to share a units with, but still each has their own room.

PitMix Nov 09, 2021 10:07 AM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

Sac, so they can continue to live 5 to a room in IV if the idea of a windowless room makes them suicidal. An energy efficient building concept that works in other places is not the worst thing in the world.

I just remember what the climate change scientist said, that the level of sacrifice we will have to make to actually reverse climate change is unimaginable to most people. Definitely far beyond the imagination of most people here.

sacjon Nov 09, 2021 09:43 AM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

PIT - it is not up to the architect/designer to tell young adults how to live their lives. If someone prefers relaxing/reading/being in their room, alone, who are you to force them to "mingle?" This isn't a cruise ship, it's "home" for a year for thousands of young adults, some of whom might not want to "mingle." Stop forcing your beliefs on others.

sacjon Nov 09, 2021 09:20 AM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

SBTOWNIE - yeah, I figure the cost of windows can be prohibitive, I just think they're a necessity for any living quarters. There's much more to hate though about this guy and this design, I can agree on that!

SBTownie Nov 09, 2021 09:04 AM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

Jon, yeah, that's an admirable goal, but glazing is one of the most expensive parts of construction. And try drawing out a grid where there are such thing as single rooms and they all have a window. You will quickly see why you cannot build these units of housing at scale and volume and still provide windows. Large buildings are typically things like offices, where there are not windows in every room and many people may find themselves at a desk 100' or more from a window. The geometry of providing a window to every room becomes impossible very quickly unless you build perforated towers with internal courtyards, etc. etc. which is often done but for 4,500 residents in one building, the size of the building then necessarily grows even higher and courtyards also become a moot point once the overall height is over a certain threshold. I like you Sac, just pointing out that reality exists and unfortunately it is a lot harder to build your idea than it seems. I hate Munger and he seems like a soulless loony but I stand by my assertion that the worst part of this is not that the rooms themselves do not have windows but rather the compounding awfulness of nearly very component.

sacjon Nov 08, 2021 09:18 AM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

SBTOWNIE - sure, individual rooms are great, if they have windows! I couldn't imagine anything worse than feeling like you have to stay in your room and having no window to look out of. It's just an awful, horrible design.

SBTownie Nov 08, 2021 09:09 AM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

I mean, I agree with you, but most dorms are not set up for introverts anyway. This is why I when I went to college I ended up living in my own small studio apartment. There was no such thing as an unshared room for a freshman, let alone any bathroom privacy. Personally I find this really barbaric. In other countries (like all of Europe) it would be insane to suggest adults should share bedrooms. Dorm rooms are almost always singles. I was traumatized from staying with a friend at Berkeley where the bathrooms were co-ed and so I knew I couldn't hack living with a bunch of other people unless I had my own space. Didn't care if it was the size of a closet, I just needed to shut the door and have some privacy. I hate this plan, but you can't deny that the individual rooms would be a perk for introverts or those who aren't into being around people 24/7.

Byzantium Nov 08, 2021 08:39 AM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

UC Davis agreed with the City of Davis to be fined $500 for every student they enrolled over an agreed amount if UCD did not provide them campus housing. UCSB is currently 6000 over their agreement with Goleta. Using the UC Davis formula, they would owe Goleta three million dollars in fines. Which is cheaper than building a billion dollar building.

SBTownie Nov 08, 2021 08:29 AM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

The truth is I am less concerned with no windows in the individual rooms than I am with no windows almost anywhere in this maze. I have the personality where frankly I think I'd rather have my own room, and no window, than share with someone and have a window. I think I'd be alright in the U. Mich dorms Munger designed. A bigger room, a double bed, my own bathroom but no windows. What I think would psychologically really mess me up would be moving through room after room with no windows. Some of these apartments or pods of rooms are so insular it would take one quite a long time and moving through many different spaces before accessing an external view or window. That actually seems more psychologically damaging than not having a window in your own bedroom. I also think it's odd that the emphasis is on windows in study lounges, etc. Why? Study lounges could be contained in the bowel of this building, far away from natural light or windows. In fact, there could be pods or cubicles for studying. I'm one who never went to the library or anywhere public to study. It was too distracting so I stayed at home in my room in my apartment.

Mesarats Nov 08, 2021 08:09 AM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

200 million of estimated 1.5 billion is a drop in the bucket, 100 million shy of 20% Given the burden of obtaining the majority of funding, without even having local input, I don’t think it’s a great deal.

If the system has or can obtain that kind of money to fund this project they could surely fund student housing that is more compatible and humane.

OAITW Nov 08, 2021 07:51 AM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

Aside from the obvious problems with the building itself, there are two things that should stop this project from rising from the wetlands. It adds another 4500 people to the south coast. We are already past our carrying capacity for water, transportation, open space, etc. UCSB needs to cut it’s enrollment by 5000, which would obviate the need for this building, as well as reduce class sizes, reduce pressure on the already tight housing market in the surrounding community and reduce pressure on water and transportation resources. The other thing that should stop this building from going forward is the $1.3 billion price tag the taxpayers will be strapped with for a single building. Stop this thing NOW!

Byzantium Nov 07, 2021 08:27 PM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

Any mention of what these Munger Hall rooms would cost students per month? UC Davis is putting in a similar large student housing complex - 4000 students in private or semiprivate ensuite rooms with one window. Various options for solo, 2-3-4 group apartments ranging around $1300 a month. Or share a bed (or put in bunk beds) in the same room and split the costs - around $700 a person. Pretty ugly buildings and rows of them, to reach their full 4000 capacity in former farm land across the highway from the campus, but with an enhanced bike path. Westside Village at UC Davis. But you do get a window. Whether it is operable or not is hard to tell from the schematics.

PitMix Nov 08, 2021 07:25 AM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

Modern buildings don't let you open windows because it affects the cooling/heating pressures. You can't design a system that will compensate for a number of random open windows in a big building like that.

sands Nov 07, 2021 07:31 PM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

A partially blind 97 year old with no architectural experience who has donated 200 million out of a 1.5 billion dollar project is calling the shots on what type of living conditions are suitable for young people.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME. Just when I think UCSB cant go any lower. Also, thank you UCSB for making agreements in 2010 and than completely screwing the Goleta among other communities out of affordable housing for the general working community. Shame

Icre84U Nov 07, 2021 06:37 PM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

For what has now become such a high visibility project: Does Munger or the University have a professional licensed architect (not an acknowledged "hobbyist") willing to sign off on this project? If not, CA taxpayers could be looking at years and years of settlement payments made by the UC Reagents for a future disaster (fire, suicide, etc.) - regardless of actual fault, the amount of now well-documented attendant controversy has already made this a near-certain outcome.

Byzantium Nov 07, 2021 04:54 PM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

Basic805, does that mean we now have to give back Munger's Las Varas Ranch donation as a nature preserve, and pay back what Munger donated to the Theoretical Physics residential hall? All certain signs of a malignant narcissist for sure. How did we all miss his evil plan when Munger was making those past two gifts?

Basicinfo805 Nov 07, 2021 04:38 PM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

I think the consensus is correct - Munger is a guy with tons of money and terrible ideas and character. Narcissist is a very good description. The REAL question is why Yang doesn’t seem to get it. Yang’s been completely ivory tower for years, maybe he’s a narcissist too, I don’t know. Blind to what’s happening around him. He deserves to be ousted.

forrealnews Nov 07, 2021 03:51 PM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

UCSB needs to disentangle with him ASAP. Any project like this needs to take into account study data from mental health professionals as well as other community and architects. If he is so resistant to seeking community input and uses such language to refer to others, he needs to go away. He is no model for community relations and design.

SB LOC Nov 07, 2021 12:18 PM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

Mungerosity Acre. UCSB should decline the gift as it does not fit the campus and may be bad for young people. The Channel Cat (large boat), another aesthetically challenged Mungerosity, is an eye sore in our lovely harbor.

yacht rocked Nov 07, 2021 10:29 AM
UCSB, Munger Respond to Avalanche of Backlash over Dormzilla

Sorry to be Debby Downer, but such a building would be a prime terrorist target. Truck bomb in the entrance, jet aircraft in the side, toxic chem and smoke in the HVAC air intake, etc. 4,500 students in one building at 3am makes Oklahoma City look mild by comparison.

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