There’s a controversy over Charlie Munger’s design for a big dorm at UCSB

Charlie Munger at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting in Los Angeles, California. May 1, 2021.

Gerard Miller | CNBC

Charlie Munger’s architectural design for a large new dormitory at the University of California, Santa Barbara is getting attention after an architect resigned on the school’s design review committee because he thought it didn’t have enough natural light.

The 11-story, $1.5 billion, 1.68 million-square-foot building will house 4,536 undergraduate students. It aims to address the school’s acute shortage of housing space that has prompted threats of lawsuits.

Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, is interested in architecture as well as investment. Warren Buffett’s longtime business partner is donating millions to help foot the bill for the building—provided he plays a large role in its design.

The proposed building houses groups of eight single bedrooms organized into suites. The bedrooms do not have windows but the common areas do and there are plenty of them.

It has amenities including a rooftop fitness center, entertainment room, gastro bar, juice bar, ‘grab n go’ market, landscaped courtyard, and skateboard storage of course.

Munger Hall

Munger’s concept is to increase the number of students the building can accommodate while still giving them some privacy and encouraging them to spend more of their time in the common areas for socializing and collaboration.

(UCSB’s presentation for a hearing in July includes several drawings and plans, along with technical details.)

The Santa Barbara Independent It stated that architect Dennis MacFadden, who spent 15 years on the review panel, resigned because the design was “unsupported from my perspective as an architect, parents, and human being.”

In a letter to the school, McFadden wrote that there is plenty of evidence that interiors with “natural light, air, and views to nature improve the physical and mental well-being of their occupants. Munger Hall’s design ignores this evidence and appears to be taking an attitude of no matter.”

MacFadden argued that “as a ‘vision’ of a single donor, the building is a social and psychological experience of unknown influence on the lives and personal development of the undergraduate students served by the university.”

In an interview with BloombergMunger defended his concept. “Everyone loves light and everyone prefers natural light. But it’s a game of trade-offs. If you build a big square building, everything will be close to everyone in the building. If you maximize the lighting, you get fewer people in the building.”

Munger said Bloomberg The dorm is an “improved version” of a building housing graduate students at the University of Michigan that he helped design and pay for.

“I was there last month. We picked the students at random and they’re all crazy about it. We’re copying the existing building that’s a hit and improving it.”

The project is still facing additional reviews and approvals.

The school hopes to be ready to open in the fall of 2025.

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