Architect quits over billionaire donor’s “destructive” dorm design

Charlie Munger thinks his largely windowless plan would help students, but a committee member disagrees

National Weekend Edition /
Oct.October 30, 2021 12:29 PM
The planned Munger Residency Hall at UCSB (UCSB)

A well-respected Southern California architect has quit his post on the University of California, Santa Barbara’s design committee while tearing into plans for a new dormitory that he says packs students in like sardines and leaves them without a necessary amenity — windows.

The Santa Barbara Independent reports that Dennis McFadden, who has spent 15 years on the committee at the school, was flabbergasted by the plans for the 11-story, 1.68-million-square-foot structure that cram 94 percent of the 4,500 living there into small, single occupancy bedrooms with no views of the outside world.

Charles Munger (Wikimedia)

Billionaire investor and amateur architect Charles Munger promised $200 million toward the project — as long his his plans were followed exactly, according to the paper.

The big-dollar donor reckoned his plans would benefit students by getting them out of their tiny rooms and into common areas where they could collaborate with each other.

School chancellor Henry Yang liked his thinking, calling the design “inspired and revolutionary,” but McFadden didn’t see it.

“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 in his resignation. “The Munger Hall design ignores this evidence and seems to take the position that it doesn’t matter.”

He also claimed that housing so many students in one building would create the fourth densest neighborhood on the planet, just behind that of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

His Oct. 25 resignation letter was handed in just weeks after an Oct. 5 presentation that proved to him the dorm’s plans were already given the go-ahead. 

“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 15 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 wasn’t the only one to slam the plan.

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger went to Twitter to weigh in on the design, calling it a “jail masquerading as a dormitory.”

[Santa Barbara Independent] — Vince DiMiceli





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