Charlie Munger’s controversial dorm design at UCSB appears dead

University issues a request for architects that begins a new bidding process

UCSB Wants to Replace Charlie Munger’s Dorm Design
A rendering of the dorm design and Charlie Munger (UCSB, Getty; Illustration by The Real Deal)

After nearly two years of controversy, the University of California at Santa Barbara appears to have scrapped plans for a dormitory funded and designed by the billionaire Charlie Munger. 

Munger’s design for the enormous new dorm, called Munger Hall, prompted a backlash in the fall of 2021 mostly because the building included a very small number of windows, leading both professional and amateur critics to compare the site to a jail, a notorious Soviet hotel complex and worse. 

But late last month UCSB issued a Request for Qualifications notice to architectural firms that may be interested in submitting proposals for a dorm at the same location where Munger’s project was planned, indicating that the widely ridiculed design from one of the country’s best known nonagenarians was likely kaput. 

The university’s RFQ notice indicates that it’s accepting bids through Aug. 18, and that the project will include at least 3,500 beds, the same number as had been planned with Munger’s design. The notice was reported earlier by the Santa Barbara Independent

In an update the university provided to students when the RFQ went out, which a UCSB representative shared with TRD, school officials said they are continuing “to work on the planning and consultation process for Munger Hall” and that the university “is also actively moving forward simultaneously with plans to develop additional housing options for our students.” 

The notice added that the school would share more details “as plans progress.” 

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

The new search for architects comes several months after a panel of UCSB faculty and community members released a report that was highly critical of Munger’s unusual building, concluding the project design presented a health and safety risk. The report called for a “robust redesign” to include more windows and ventilation. 

“It’s all horseshit,” Munger told TRD after that report came out. “It’s ridiculous.” 

Munger, who turned 99 in January and has spent decades as the trusted Number Two investment counselor to his fellow Nebraskan Warren Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway, has long held a passion for architecture. He has previously influenced the design of other campus buildings, including a dorm at the University of Michigan. 

Individual sleeping areas in that building also do not have windows, a design intended to maximize space and prioritize common areas. The larger scale project at UCSB was based on a similar approach, with updates that included programmable artificial “windows.”

“They can change the plans any way they want,” Munger previously told TRD. “But they have to use their own money to do it.” 

UCSB’s RFQ notice indicates the project’s budget is $600 million to $750 million. 

Read more