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UC Santa Barbara 'Psychological Experiment' Dorm Proposal Prompts Architectural Adviser To Resign

A rendering of Munger Residence Hall, the 4,536-bed dorm building proposed by billionaire Charlie Munger for UC Santa Barbara

Money can't buy taste, goes the saying — one that is being put to the test at a public California university.

Architect Dennis McFadden resigned from his position on the UC Santa Barbara Design Review Committee in protest of what he saw as its failure to stop the school from carrying out plans for a giant residence hall designed by billionaire Charlie Munger, the Santa Barbara Independent reports. Munger has promised $200M to UCSB to finance the construction of Munger Residence Hall, on the condition that they strictly follow his blueprints, which call for windowless bedrooms in 94% of units.

“[Munger Residence Hall is] unsupportable from my perspective as an architect, a parent, and a human being,” McFadden said in his resignation letter, which referred to the project as “a social and psychological experiment.”

On the one hand, UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang called the design “inspired and revolutionary,” the Santa Barbara Independent reports.

Munger, who made his fortune as partner to investment superstar Warren Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway, has no formal training in architecture and claimed to have never so much as read a book on architecture in a 2019 interview with The Wall Street Journal. His plan calls for what would be the largest single residence building for college students in the world with 4,536 beds, beating the U.S. Naval Academy's Bancroft Hall's 4,000 beds, the Independent reports.

The 11 floors of Munger Hall are each designed to contain eight suites of eight single bedrooms, with each suite having its own common area and some amenities and all eight suites on a floor sharing a larger common area and other amenities not included in the suites, according to UCSB's campus newspaper. Munger's stated rationale for the design, which would include room lights that simulate natural light, is to encourage students to get out of their bedrooms and spend more time in communal spaces.

“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's resignation letter stated. “The Munger Hall design ignores this evidence and seems to take the position that it doesn’t matter.”

McFadden resigned his post on UCSB's design committee after an Oct. 5 meeting to review Munger's plans that McFadden felt amounted to a rubber stamp.

“The design was described as 100% complete; approval was not requested, no vote was taken, and no further submittals are intended or required,” McFadden said in his letter. “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.”

Munger, who has donated to UCSB before, has developed a late-career passion for student housing. One of his community-over-natural-light designs has already been developed under similar conditions at the University of Michigan, also financed with a donation from Munger, the WSJ reports.

Student housing as a sector has rebounded like many commercial real estate asset classes have since the nadir of the pandemic, and financial giants such as Brookfield and Blackstone have made major commitments in the past year. The demand for more housing is acute at UCSB, which is behind on its state-mandated ratio of housing to student body size, the Independent reports.