His Dorm Design Is Likened to 'Psychological Experiment'

Billionaire Charlie Munger is paying for a largely windowless dorm on California coast at UCSB
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 1, 2021 10:30 AM CDT
Updated Nov 6, 2021 5:05 PM CDT
Billionaire Plays Architect, and a Real Architect Quits
A 2018 photo of Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charlie Munger.   (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

It's good to be the king. Or if you have enough money, it might even be good to be the architect. However, one billionaire's foray into the field is generating all kinds of controversy in California. The unusual tale:

  • The billionaire: Charlie Munger, the 97-year-old right-hand man to Warren Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway, has donated $200 million to build a dormitory at the University of California-Santa Barbara, reports CNN. One catch: Munger is something of an "amateur architect," though without formal training, and the donation comes with the stipulation that the university follow the design he helped create to the tee.

  • The vision: Munger envisions an 11-story dorm in which the vast majority of 4,500 residents would be crammed in interior rooms without real windows, per the New York Times. (That is, no ocean views despite being on UCSB's famously beautiful coastal campus.) Instead of natural light, dorm residents would have "virtual windows" modeled on the faux windows in cabins on Disney cruise ships. "If you want it romantic and dim, you can make it romantic and dim," says Munger. "When in your life have you been able to change the sun? In this dorm, you can." He also thinks these rooms will encourage students to spend more time in communal areas.
  • The architect: A consulting architect on the university's design-review committee has resigned in protest after writing what the Santa Barbara Independent calls a "scorched earth" letter. It is indeed. "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," writes Dennis McFadden.
  • The letter: It's well worth reading in full here. McFadden points out that the dorm would qualify "as the eighth densest neighborhood in the world" and calls it more of a "psychological experiment" than a residential hall. "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 [well-being] of occupants," he writes. "The Munger Hall design ignores this evidence and seems to take the position that it doesn't matter."

  • Unfazed: Munger shrugs off the criticism in multiple interviews. "I'm not a bit surprised that someone looked at it and said, 'What the hell is going on here?'" he tells the Times. "What's going on here is that it's going to work better than any other practical alternative." He tells CNN the building will be a huge success and will lead to copycat designs. A school spokesperson says the Munger plan is going forward, and Chancellor Henry Yang—whose school is in the midst of a housing crisis—has called the design "inspired and revolutionary," per the Independent.
(More Charlie Munger stories.)

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