If you aren’t already aware of the proceedings of Munger Hall, buckle up and bear down for this one. Proposed by billionaire Charlie Munger as a solution to UC Santa Barbara’s (UCSB) housing crisis, Munger Hall will house about 4,500 students in a warehouse-like structure, with minimal access to natural lighting, cramped and isolated spaces, and an alarming lack of common areas. The project caused one of UCSB’s leading architects, Dennis McFadden, to step down from his post after working with the university for 15 years. His negative opinions on the building sparked anger amongst the UCSB student body and faculty alike.
I am one of these students. Besides being overtly modern compared to the other dorms on this campus, Munger Hall is going to cost a pretty penny to build. However, I am more inclined to discuss the room layout. While these dorms are being proposed as suite-style with a bathroom and kitchen, the individual rooms themselves are singles.
The real kicker is that while these suites line the perimeter of the building, the only wall with any windows is in the kitchen. This means most of the actual bedrooms will have no windows, and you guessed it, no natural lighting. The lack of natural light is made up for with artificial light simulators — I’ll let you chew on that for a minute.
From the outside, Munger Hall looks like a substantial building with the potential to be a sought after dorm, especially considering the proposed amenities like a grocery market and theater. It is particularly baffling to see the prospective layout of each suite. In addition to the lack of sunlight, there is also no sort of common room, a comfortable, communal space often seen in student dorms.
Instead, there would be a conference room of sorts. This concerns me. Not only do we have students in individual rooms, disconnecting from the natural light outside their walls, but when students wish to socialize, they are limited to the kitchen or a table that mimics one you would find in a conference room. Where are these students expected to go when they want more personal downtime? Are they to self-isolate or cram friends into their single room?
I think this building, in theory, is meant to maximize space and social interaction; however, it fails to provide a social environment outside of a work-like setting, which I find incredibly necessary for a balanced and healthy lifestyle, both mentally and physically.
Charles Munger is an American investor and a previous real estate agent. In my not-so-soft opinion, he has no place trying to design a dormitory to fit the adequate needs of students. Respectfully, this project is being approached as a business plan and does not prioritize building a home and comfortable living space for UCSB students. There has to be a strong, well-meaning intention to promote a positive quality of life for students.
As unsettling as it is to think about future students being put into the hands of a businessman with power stemming solely from his wallet, it is almost impossible for me to not be even more baffled by the support UCSB has for this project thus far. On UCSB’s very own website, the proposal of Munger Hall takes on a positive tone and advertises it in a way that makes this building seem progressive without offering direct information on the specific details of each room, especially surrounding the window situation.
In the midst of a pressing housing crisis with a not-so-flexible deadline, it is clear why this is the case. Yet, there are legitimate concerns with the foundations of this plan that should not and cannot be, for the well-being and success of the students, overlooked.
Although UCSB’s efforts to fix its housing problem and accommodate students are not taken for granted, it feels as though the pressure on this issue is being eased, but to the detriment of the students. We are the ones who will live there and there is a need for recognition on behalf of the school that students do not have any immediate control over the proceedings of this building.
The power is within the administration and in the persuasion of money. This whole issue affects the students directly, so it is students for whom this dormitory should be built for. Not on the basis of money, power, experimental purposes, or a simple fix.