July 21, 2024
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UCSB says it’s sticking with Munger’s mega-dorm


An artist’s rendering of billionaire Charlie Munger’s design for a new dorm at UCSB. It would be partially funded by a $200 million donation from Munger. (image courtesy UCSB)

Despite drawing national attention and criticism, UC Santa Barbara isn’t backing down from the design of the proposed Munger Hall dormitory on the university’s campus.

Charlie Munger, the 97-year-old vice chairman of Warren Buffet’s firm Berkshire Hathaway, has pledged $200 million to UCSB to build the student housing development. The project budget is “in the range of $1.5 billion,” according to a staff report prepared for UCSB’s Design Review Committee in early October.

The proposed design for Munger Hall, an 11-story mixed-use building that will feature nearly 4,600 single-occupancy bedrooms for UCSB undergraduates and eight one-bedroom staff apartments, is drawing its share of criticism. Munger designed the building himself, and recent coverage in CNN, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and other national outlets has focused on some of his more unusual ideas, including the lack of windows in most of the bedrooms and a reliance on artificial light and ventilation.

Architect Dennis McFadden, a member of UCSB’s Design Review Committee, announced in late October that he was resigning as an architectural consultant after the Munger Hall project was presented at a committee meeting earlier in the month. In a letter to the design review co-chairs, McFadden said “the basic concept of Munger Hall as a place for students to live is unsupportable from my perspective as an architect, a parent and a human being.”

The Munger Hall project and design are continuing to move forward as planned, said Andrea Estrada, UCSB’s director of news and media relations.

“We are delighted to be moving forward with this transformational project that directly addresses the campus’s great need for more student housing,” Estrada said in a statement emailed to the Business Times. She did not answer specific questions about the design or the university’s process.

UCSB plans to have Munger Hall completed and occupied for the fall quarter in 2025. University officials expect the project to go before the UC Board of Regents for approval in May 2022 and the California Coastal Commission the following month.

Estrada said UCSB’s “current housing projects are guided by our campus plan, which was developed through an extensive campus participatory process with the assistance of Urban Design Associates with the goal of providing affordable, on-campus housing that minimizes energy consumption, and reduces the number of students living in the neighboring community of Isla Vista and beyond.” That plan, adopted in 2010, calls for an additional 5,000 beds of student housing.

Munger Hall is a collaboration between Munger, the university and architect Navy Banvard, a managing principal of VTBS Architects, according to Estrada.

In a statement to the Business Times, Estrada said UCSB is “grateful for Mr. McFadden’s contributions and insights during his tenure as an advisory consultant.”

“We believe that it’s a valuable part of our process to consider multiple design perspectives, which is why we ask several external consultants to assist with our project reviews,” Estrada said via email.

McFadden raised several concerns in his resignation letter, such as the project’s “unprecedented” density and size, and the fact that “the spaces are wholly depended on artificial light and mechanical ventilation.”

“The project is essentially the student life portion of a mid-sized university campus in a box,” he wrote.

Munger Hall was on the agenda for the Oct. 5 meeting of UCSB’s 11-member design review committee.

“The design was described as 100% complete, approval was not requested, no vote was taken, and no further submittals are intended or required,” McFadden wrote. “Yet 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.”

The design of the 1.68-million-square-foot building, according to a UCSB news release in July, “can be credited to Munger’s own sweeping and inspired vision.”

The proposed Munger Hall project isn’t Munger’s first donation for on-campus housing. In 2014, he gave $65 million build and furnish the Charles T. Munger Physics Residence for visiting scholars at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at UCSB. The Towbes Group, a Santa Barbara-based property management company founded by the late Michael Towbes, built the three-story, 75,000-square-foot facility.

Munger’s donations have also funded student housing at Stanford University and the University of Michigan.

UPDATE, 11/5/2021: UCSB has posted a Q&A on its website with Van Tillburg, the architect of record on the project, addressing some of the concerns raised about the proposed dorm.