September 30, 2022

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Architect quits UCSB’s mostly windowless mega-dorm project funded by Warren Buffett’s right-hand man, Charlie Munger



A plan for UCSB's Munger Hall UCSB


© UCSB
A plan for UCSB’s Munger Hall UCSB

  • An architect on the University of California, Santa Barbara’s “mega-dorm” project quit over concerns about the project.
  • The project, known as Munger Hall, is primarily financed by Berkshire Hathaway’s vice chairman, the billionaire investor Charles Munger.
  • The plan contains 4,536 beds for UCSB undergraduate students and is 1.68 million square feet.

Construction of a mega-dorm at the University of California, Santa Barbara, primarily funded by Charlie Munger, is moving ahead, school officials said, even after an architect on the project reportedly quit in protest about the living conditions.

Munger, Warren Buffett’s longtime right-hand man and Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, donated $200 million toward the project, known as Munger Hall, with the condition that his blueprints be followed exactly, according to the Santa Barbara Independent.

But earlier this week, Dennis McFadden, a consulting architect on UCSB’s Design Review Committee (DRC) for over 15 years, left the project, the university confirmed in an email to Insider.

According to the Independent, McFadden quit in protest, calling the large project and nearly windowless plan “unsupportable from my perspective as an architect, a parent, and a human being.”

Munger Hall’s proposed plan contains 4,536 beds for UCSB undergraduate students and 8 one-bedroom staff apartments, according to records by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research in California obtained by Insider.

A majority of the dorm’s single occupancy bedrooms do not have windows. The structure, in its entirety, will be 11-stories tall and approximately 1.68 million gross square feet.



A landscaped courtyard within Munger Hall at UC Santa Barbara. COURTESY IMAGE


© COURTESY IMAGE
A landscaped courtyard within Munger Hall at UC Santa Barbara. COURTESY IMAGE

“The Munger Hall project and design is continuing to move forward as planned,” a spokesperson from UCSB told Insider. “We are delighted to be moving forward with this transformational project that directly addresses the campus’s great need for more student housing.”

UCSB’s total enrollment for 2020-2021 includes 23,196 undergraduates, according to its website. There are currently eight university-owned and operated residence halls at UCSB, which house over 5,000 students. After Munger Hall is completed the university will be able to house less than half of its undergraduate students on campus. The housing rate for UCSB’s residence halls varies between $15,072 and $20,656 per academic year.

Berkshire Hathaway did not immediately respond to Insider’s request to comment on Munger’s involvement in the project.

The project has been slammed by architects who say the many windowless rooms sound like a prison, not a dorm.

McFadden expressed concern in his letter of resignation that the university has not offered any data to support this style of housing and its impact on students. McFadden called the project a “social and psychological experiment” with no known “impact on the lives and personal development of the undergraduates” at UCSB, according to the Independent.

“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.”

UCSB did not respond to Insider’s request to comment on McFadden’s concerns for the well-being of students that will live in Munger Hall.

“We are grateful for Mr. McFadden’s contributions and insights during his tenure as an advisory consultant,” the spokesperson said.

McFadden told the Independent he decided to resign when the project plans appeared to be set in stone after a meeting in early October.

“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,” McFadden told the paper.

This isn’t Munger’s first foray into funding university construction projects.

Munger designed the Munger Graduate Residencies at the University of Michigan which opened in 2015. The billionaire donated $110 million to the project in 2013, according to a 2019 article on Munger’s college-related projects by the Wall Street Journal. Munger’s original plan for the residencies included housing for approximately 300 students. In its final execution, Munger Graduate Residencies currently houses about 600 students, many of whom live in apartment-style rooms without windows, the article says.

Munger hopes that when his project at UCSB is complete “it will be widely regarded as the best in the world,” he told the Journal. Comparing his project to Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, Munger says “it isn’t that the Jews didn’t get to the Promised Land, it’s just that Moses didn’t get to… That’s OK. This will all come to fruition after I’m dead,” the Journal article quotes.

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