Halt the construction of Munger Hall at UC Santa Barbara
Halt the construction of Munger Hall at UC Santa Barbara
There has been extensive national and international press coverage over the past days concerning UCSB's attempt to hasten the construction of Munger Hall, a new on-campus mega-dormitory. We, the undersigned, are writing to signal our adamant opposition to this project, the many flaws and potential dangers of which we describe below. Our letter of protest reflects the eloquent and well-informed letter of resignation submitted in protest by longtime Design Review Committee member Dennis McFadden following the October 5 DRC meeting at which representatives for the University presented the project for Munger Hall.
First, some basic facts that bear repeating:
-Munger Hall would be the largest dormitory building in the world.
-It would house approximately as many students (4,500) as the entire student body of a typical medium-sized university.
-The population density of Munger Hall would be 221,000 students/square mile. For comparison, Isla Vista has a density of 12,400 people/square mile.
-To date, no plans or drawings have been made public that show Munger Hall’s scale in relation to the rest of campus; that show how the height of the building would look from different vantage points on and off campus; or that show how the building would or would not fit into the UCSB campus masterplan.
Munger Hall, in short, would be shockingly out of scale not only with the rest of the UCSB campus but with national architectural norms as a whole.
The 4,500 UCSB students to be housed in Munger Hall would almost all be placed in small windowless cells, without natural light, natural air, or views of the world outside – all things that countless studies, not to mention common sense and experience, tell us are essential to human physical and mental wellbeing. It is inhuman to pretend that "artificial windows" offer a remotely appropriate compensation for this loss. The refusal of natural ventilation and lighting also goes against basic sustainability principles. The building does not contemplate the use of any passive form of energy (geothermal, solar); this is disappointing, given our campus' pioneering of environmental studies and climate action, and given the great investment that we are making in bringing our carbon footprints down. With respect to density, the design accepts and actually embraces some of the worst conditions of overcrowding in Isla Vista rather than tackling the problem in an ameliorative way.
No supporting data regarding the potential effect of such a radical design on inhabitant wellbeing have been presented to any stakeholders. Supporters have pointed to the putative "success" of the Munger Graduate Residences at the University of Michigan, which has similarly windowless student rooms. Yet the two buildings are very different. Munger Hall at Michigan is for graduate students, is less than one-quarter the size (380,000 sq. ft. versus 1,680,000 sq. ft.), and offers roughly one bathroom for every bedroom, whereas the behemoth planned for UCSB undergraduates offers just two bathrooms for every eight bedrooms. (And the artificial windows are just as unpopular at the Michigan dorm as one might expect.) It is no exaggeration to say that UCSB's Munger Hall would constitute a radical experiment without precedent in the history of student housing architecture.
That such an experiment is even being contemplated has a great deal to do with the wealth and power of its sponsor and principal designer: Charlie Munger, a billionaire philanthropist and amateur architect who publicly positions himself as a disrupter in the architectural field. Back in 2016, Mr. Munger made a donation to UCSB of $200 million for the construction of this building – less than 1/7 of its estimated $1.4 billion price tag – with the stipulation that his designs be used. It is true that Mr. Munger has partnered on this project with the established firm VTBS Architects, but the idiosyncratic design concept is still that of an architectural amateur, and has not been studied or tested to nearly the degree that would be normal for a $1.4 billion project with profound implication for the wellbeing of UCSB undergraduates. We feel that the University’s acceptance of this restricted gift raises ethical concerns that have not been sufficiently addressed.
Our opposition to Munger Hall must not be conflated with being in denial about the severity of the housing crisis at UCSB and in the Santa Barbara/Goleta area generally. That crisis, however, is in significant measure a result of UCSB's own failure to fulfill the housing construction promises it made in its 2010 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP). We strongly question the University’s decision now to reach back to Munger's 2016 proposal as a kind of deus ex machina scheme that aims to accomplish in one building what the University has neglected to do over the previous twelve years. Just because Munger Hall seeks to address a serious crisis is no justification for investing $1.4 billion in a monstrous project based on untested and, in many respects, highly disturbing design principles.
Munger Hall has not to date been subject to the University’s usual practices of formal discussion, debate, and community input. UCSB’s The Current has sounded at times like the official organ of a totalitarian state in its celebration of "Munger’s sweeping and inspired vision". But The Current has hardly been the only component of this effort to preempt criticism and to project a sense of inevitability around the building. Members of the Academic Senate Planning Committee report being told at a recent meeting that there would be no discussion of this particular project. Days after the Design Review Committee hearing on 5 October, the UCSB Graduate Student Association decided to withdraw from the Munger Hall discussions at the DRC, while Committee member Dennis McFadden resigned outright. McFadden writes concerning the university's presentation that
"the design was described as 100% complete, approval was not requested, no vote was taken and no further submittals are intended or required. 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. This is the very project the committee exists to consider."
This project, in sum, does a grave disservice to our students, their families, and the myriad stakeholders, from educators and staff to donors and alumni, who believe in and work for the University’s core values. We, the undersigned, therefore affirm our strong opposition to the project for Munger Hall in anything like its current configuration. We reject the administration's efforts to force this monstrous project into construction without the customary community debate and input. And we invite the administration to return to previous norms of debate and collaborative consultation in exploring how UCSB can best fulfill its serious responsibilities with respect to the current housing crisis.