Opposition Grows To “Prison-Like” Dorm Project

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Robison Wells
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UC Santa Barbara students opposed construction of a building expected to house 4,500 students; some refer to it as a prison. The architect resigned in the cloud of a student petition that already contains over 12,000 signatures.

Munger Hall takes its name from billionaire Charles Munger, a vice-chairman of Warren Buffet’s company, Berkshire Hathaway. Munger donated $250 million to the project, which will cost over $1 billion, on the condition that the school uses his architectural design. The school agreed to the terms.

Munger (who has no architectural experience) designed a densely-packed 11-story dorm with no windows for its residents. The building offers only 14 exits and entrances for 4,500 occupants. The plan divides the building into eight “houses” per floor, eight suites per house, and eight bedrooms per suite. According to Munger, the design encourages students to get out of their dorm rooms and meet in common areas or go outside for recreation.

Architectural Consultant Dennis McFadden resigned, refusing to design Munger Hall. A student petition aims to join the fight.

“The proposed building is an architectural nightmare, entirely out of touch with Isla Vista and the needs of students, and the administration is moving forwards with the project, ignoring all criticism,” says the petition description.

Richard Wittman, an architecture professor at the school, spoke out in an open letter: “Nobody but a billionaire could propose this and ask the university to invest that much money in it and not be laughed out of the room.”

Even the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects weighed in: “As architects, 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 American Institute of Architects, Santa Barbara Chapter believes unequivocally that the Munger Residence Hall as proposed does not meet these requirements and that there is no justifiable reason to proceed with the project.”

In response, Munger said that his plan meets all building codes and that the windowless design will use virtual windows, similar to those located in the interior of some cruise ships, to perpetuate the proper circadian rhythms.

For now, the project remains on US Santa Barbara’s schedule.

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