“It’s all horseshit”: Charlie Munger reacts to critical UCSB report

Berkshire Hathaway vice chairman and amateur architect designed campus dormitory

Charlie Munger with Munger Hall (Getty, VTBS Architects)
Charlie Munger with Munger Hall (Getty, VTBS Architects)

On Tuesday, a panel of 13 UCSB faculty and community members released a highly critical report of the university’s planned megadorm, a project that sparked outrage after one UCSB architect resigned over its unusual design last fall.

On Wednesday, Charlie Munger, the billionaire Berkshire Hathaway vice chairman who financed and designed the dorm, had a blunt response to that same report.

“It’s all horseshit,” Munger, reached at his home in L.A., told The Real Deal. “It’s ridiculous.”

The 98-year-old amateur architect added that Santa Barbara had a huge need for new student housing. “And Munger Hall and other buildings like it would immensely help that situation, so of course it should be a totally uncontroversial project,” he said. “You can hardly imagine anything that makes more sense.”

But Munger’s building design, which was inspired by cruise ship architecture and is now slated to stand nine stories and include 3,500 beds — down from an earlier plan for 11 stories and 4,500 beds — has seemingly done nothing but generate controversy, prompting a wave of criticism from everyone from architects to public health advocates that’s likely unprecedented for a U.S. dorm building.

Much of the fury has centered around the design’s lack of windows, although Munger’s team has argued its plan for “artificial” windows, which can be programmed to emit light according to sunlight patterns, offers a substitute. Also, critics have lambasted the university’s acquiescence over the plans to Munger, who donated $200 million for the project in 2014.

“As the ‘vision’ of a single donor,” Dennis McFadden, the architect who resigned his UCSB post over the issue, wrote last year, “the building is a social and psychological experiment with an unknown impact on the lives and personal development of the undergraduates the university serves.”

Munger has often referred to McFadden as “a nutcase,” and repeated the sentiment on Wednesday, although he also clarified that none of the panelists who expressed concerns were “evil or anything.”

“I’m not mad at the guy,” Munger added.

The panel’s report, revealed on Tuesday by the L.A. Times, concluded the design brought a health and safety risk and called for a “robust redesign” that includes more windows and ventilation.

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Especially in the era of Covid-19, the risks from the design, it added, “are predictable enough, probably enough, and consequential enough that it would be unwise for UCSB to proceed without significant modifications.”

“We may make some minor changes,” Munger conceded. “We’re going to be reasonable.”

But the man who has spent decades working alongside Warren Buffett — and previously designed a similar dorm building at the University of Michigan (“the most popular building on campus”) — also emphasized that delays like this were part of the process.

“It’s a big, bureaucratic place, and that’s the way they do things,” Munger said of UCSB. “I try to be mature about it.”

He also pointed to one adjustment his team had already made: “They took out the goddam microwaves in the suites,” Munger said, because someone had decided it was a ventilation problem. “Well, it’s unthinkable that we not have microwaves with a bunch of students in a goddam suite. … And so we’ve now figured out how to get the ventilation we need and get the microwaves back.”

The critical independent report came weeks after the Daily Nexus, UCSB’s student newspaper, revealed the university had scrapped an earlier housing plan that it spent nearly a decade developing in order to make way for the controversial Munger project.

Munger and his team have also dedicated years working on their design for the 4-acre megadorm. After one initial plan, for two towers, was also scrapped, the university stayed silent until the megadorm project was reintroduced in 2021, the newspaper reported, when Santa Barbara County officials expressed alarm.

A UCSB planning official did not immediately respond to an interview request.

After the latest fallout Munger, a man long known for his steely temperament, is still optimistic about a summer construction start.

“I’m hoping the regents will have enough sense to just ignore all this stuff,” he said, “and just approve it.”

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