Billionaire Donates $200 Million to Design Dorm with Windowless Rooms; Architect Resigns in Protest

Billionaire investor Charles Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, apparently has both architectural ambitions and terrible design instincts. The 97-year-old Munger donated $200 million towards the construction of a massive dormitory for U.C. Santa Barbara “with the condition that his blueprints be followed exactly,” according to the Santa Barbara Independent. Here’s a rendering of what the 11-story, 1.7-million-square-foot, 4,500-student-capacity Munger Residence Hall would look like:

Looks completely average, right? Well, not if you look at the floorplan, which would be identical on each of the nine residential floors:

Yes, all of those tiny rectangles are rooms, and believe it or not 94% of them do not have windows. Each of the “House” divisions you see on the floorplan contain eight “Suites” which contain eight single-occupancy dorm rooms, all sharing a kitchen, bathroom, dining table and laundry facilities:

In lieu of a window, each dorm room (except for that lucky 6% located on an outside wall) has a “virtual window”—a window-sized LED light mounted in a horizontal orientation near the ceiling:

Those window substitutes “would have a knob to let [students] manipulate how much artificial light to let in to their rooms as a way to mimic daytime or evening,” according to The New York Times.

Munger, who is not a licensed architect, had this to say about the “virtual windows:” “If you want it romantic and dim, you can make it romantic and dim. When in your life have you been able to change the sun? In this dorm, you can.”

To the shock of Dennis McFadden, an architect and consultant on U.C. Santa Barbara’s Design Review Committee for 14 years, Munger’s blueprints were approved by the school with no vote nor input from the committee. McFadden resigned in protest.

“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,” McFadden wrote in his resignation letter, which was leaked here. “The Munger Hall design ignores this evidence and seems to take the position that it doesn’t matter.

“…As the ‘vision’ of a single donor, the building is a social and psychological experiment with an unknown impact on the lives and personal development of the undergraduates the university serves.

“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 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.”

In contrast, U.C. Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry Yang says that “[Munger’s] inspired and revolutionary design concept for our new housing project will benefit the students who live there…Munger Hall will offer an unprecedented residential experience.”

Furthermore, according to U.C. Santa Barbara News, Munger states that his design goal for the building was to make it “so much better than normal that it will become widely admired as among the best.”


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