April 13, 2022 - From the April, 2022 issue

Architects Criticize As 'Inhumane' Proposed Munger-Funded UCSB Student Dormitory

Last October, a consulting architect on UCSB’s Design Review Committee, Dennis McFadden, quit his post in protest over the University’s proposed Munger Hall Project, calling the massive, mostly-windowless dormitory plan (an 11-story, 1.68-million-square-foot structure that would house up to 4,500 students, 94 percent of whom would not have windows in small, single-occupancy bedrooms) “unsupportable from my perspective as an architect, a parent, and a human being.” UCSB’s donor is 97-year-old billionaire-investor Charles Munger; his donation: $200 million toward the dormitory with the “condition that his blueprints be followed exactly.” The entire proposed project cost is estimated to be $1.5 billion. Not surprisingly, UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang has hailed the plans as “inspired and revolutionary.” TPR below offers two examples (a statement by  AIA Santa Barbara & a response by the former chair of national AIA, Ron Altoon) of the critical outrage which has been expressed by architects, educators and, planners in California and nationally in reaction to Charlie’s Vision for UCSB’s Munger Hall.

AIA Santa Barbara

"The American Institute of Architects, Santa Barbara Chapter (AIASB) believes unequivocally that the Munger Residence Hall as proposed, does not meet these requirements and that there is no justifiable reason to proceed with the project as proposed."

The following statement is from the Santa Barbara Chapter of the A.I.A.  merits support from the Los Angeles chapter.

As Architects, it is our responsibility to positively design the built environment in ways that support the health, safety, and welfare of building occupants, respect the natural environment, and enhance the community at large. The American Institute of Architects, Santa Barbara Chapter (AIASB) believes unequivocally that the Munger Residence Hall as proposed, does not meet these requirements and that there is no justifiable reason to proceed with the project as proposed.

Our collective response to this proposal is not a critique of style, rather this is a critique of the unacceptable, inhumane living conditions that will no doubt, have psychological impact on its inhabitants and the community at large. This project shows complete disregard to the building’s scale and proportion in relationship to its immediate surroundings and the negative impact it will have to the community in which it’s located.

To function and thrive, we as human beings are reliant upon the natural environment. We all require clean water, fresh air, and connection to the circadian rhythms of our environment for good health and mental well-being. There are countless studies, documented over decades, that demonstrate buildings, which provide these essentials, produce happier, healthier inhabitants, who are more productive and more engaged. Connection to our natural environment has positive profound impacts on our moods, stress levels and psyche. Further, the artificial daylight and air ventilation required by the proposed Munger Residence Hall fosters none of these basic essentials and degrades the planet by depending upon constant energy consumption.

UCSB is attempting to sell 10 floors of densely packed substandard cells as a housing 'choice' for undergraduate students. The reality is, 20% of the future undergraduate body will end up living in Munger Halls’ substandard housing because they have no other choice.

Santa Barbara is a city known for its focused effort to preserve, protect, and embrace the natural environment and is a world leader in this regard. The University of California Santa Barbara is a world class educational institution known for its environmental leadership and has been recognized at the highest levels for its accomplishments in science, the arts, and environmental protection and research. We urge the University to seek and encourage buildings that respect the natural environment, contribute to the community and support the student’s health, safety and welfare to the highest level. Munger Residence Hall, as proposed, fails to meet these goals at any level.

We are grateful to Architect Dennis McFadden for his service on the University Design Review Committee and for standing up against this project. AIASB strongly agrees with Mr. McFadden and the many other voices of opposition and urges the University to take immediately action to halt and reconsider this project in its entirety."

 Ronald Altoon Responds:


"Beyond acknowledging the architect's "responsibility", as a licensed and regulated profession in the state of California it is "required" that architects assure by their designs the health, safety, and welfare of society.  As is medicine, dentistry, law, engineering, accounting, and others, that is the purpose of being a regulated profession.  To design the equivalent of Public Storage for human shelter is to commoditize humanity, no less than to create a mausoleum for the living is to deny it.  As Jonas Salk advised the AIA Board, "We should all strive to be good ancestors to our grandchildren."

While I will be ever thankful that Mr. Munger never realized an early in life interest in architecture directly, I cannot imagine how colleagues of ours, practicing under the same regulatory mandates and ethical mores, could be complicit in enabling his ill-conceived vision.  It is incumbent upon all of us, rather, to be of ever-greater service to society. 

I am in strong support of your initiative. 

Wishing you every success,

Ronald Altoon, FAIA, LEED AP"



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