Yet another example of why I despise billionaires: they see our underfunded universities as a playground for their vanity projects, which our administrators will gratefully accept without regard for the purpose of their institution. Just look at UC Santa Barbara. It’s got one of the most beautiful campuses anywhere, and one asshole with money beyond sense has decided to build a prison for students as an experiment.
Charles Munger left $200 million to the university on the condition that they must build a mega-dorm exactly as his blueprints dictate. There’s a problem right there: it’s very nice of rich people to give money to universities, but donors should respect the fact that the university is supposed to know what they’re doing and that rigid demands from inflexible outsiders are not helpful. The university should have just said “NO!” early in the planning stages of the donation. Now they’re stuck with it.
The idea was conceived by 97-year-old billionaire-investor turned amateur-architect Charles Munger, who donated $200 million toward the project with the condition that his blueprints be followed exactly. Munger maintains the small living quarters would coax residents out of their rooms and into larger common areas, where they could interact and collaborate. He also argues the off-site prefabrication of standardized building elements ― the nine residential levels feature identical floor plans ― would save on cost. The entire proposal, which comes as UCSB desperately attempts to add to its overstretched housing stock, is budgeted somewhere in the range of $1.5 billion.
You read that right. Charles Munger donated $200 million in such a way as to force the university to spend another $1,300 million on this boondoggle. His design is a nightmare. It’s a collection of uncomfortably tiny, windowless sleeping rooms surrounding a common area, with the intent that students will be forced to interact in the shared space, especially since they’ll be deprived of views of the beaches or ocean. Those are terrible distractions, you know.
If I were a shiny new high school graduate considering UCSB, the environment would be a major part of the appeal, and telling me I’d be living in a sealed box with artificial lighting, only two exits from the building, and 7 strangers elbow-to-elbow would send me running elsewhere. That sounds more like a penitentiary or worse, the premise for a reality TV show. The architects hired to implement the design have already resigned (but who needs them anyway? Munger provided the blueprints, that job is done.)
One of the architects explains why it is a bad design.
McFadden draws striking comparisons between Munger Hall and other large structures to illustrate its colossal footprint. Currently, he said, the largest single dormitory in the world is Bancroft Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy, which houses 4,000 students and is composed of multiple wings wrapped around numerous courtyards with over 25 entrances.
“Munger Hall, in comparison, is a single block housing 4,500 students with two entrances,” McFadden said, and would qualify as the eighth densest neighborhood on the planet, falling just short of Dhaka, Bangladesh. It would be able to house Princeton University’s entire undergraduate population, or all five Claremont Colleges. “The project is essentially the student life portion of a mid-sized university campus in a box,” he said.
The project is utterly detached from its physical setting, McFadden goes on, and has no relationship to UCSB’s “spectacular coastal location.” It is also out of place with the scale and texture of the rest of campus, he said, “an alien world parked at the corner of the campus, not an integrally related extension of it.” Even the rooftop courtyard looks inward and “may as well be on the ground in the desert as on the eleventh floor on the coast of California,” he said.
Oh, but of course it’s going to be named Munger Hall. Munger is a college dropout turned lawyer and investment banker, so it’s perfectly normal that he gets his name splattered on buildings in campuses all across the nation.