Billionaire Charlie Munger’s UCSB dorm has no windows

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When he accepted a $ 200 million donation from Charlie Munger, the billionaire nonagenarian vice president of Berkshire Hathaway, University of California at Santa Barbara, knew conditions were attached. Part of the deal called for Munger’s donation to be used to partially fund student accommodation, which the university needs. A less conventional part of the deal was for the new student accommodation to be designed by Munger, who is not a licensed architect, and his vision to be built exactly as he requested.

Munger’s design is questionable. A 1.7 million square foot, 11 story building designed to house 4,500 people, it is a mega-structure of clustered room units that lack one key element: windows. The Independent from Santa Barbara published an article last week about the design and how its seemingly unstoppable path to construction prompted the resignation of a consulting architect from the university’s design review committee.

[Image: courtesy UCSB]

The project raises questions about what constitutes humane student housing at a time when, crunched by the pandemic, universities are struggling with deficits related to campus closures and students not returning to class. Housing is a major source of income for universities, according to Paul J. Wuennenberg, director of KWK Architects in St. Louis, specializing in design for higher education. Although the pandemic has caused a decline, university enrollments are now on the rise. Many universities rely on the development of their own buildings to provide a stable source of housing in housing markets which can be expensive. Oceanfront Santa Barbara and the nearby town of Goleta, where the campus is located, is one of those expensive markets.

Munger’s design offers a solution to a growing demand for housing and income, but the lack of windows is seen by many as a serious design flaw. “As a human being, you want to be in contact with daylight and be able to see the hours of the day, to look fresh,” says Wuennenberg.

[Image: courtesy UCSB]

The project sparked numerous stunned responses blasting its lack of windows. Floor plans for the project show a superblock of residential clusters, each with eight private bedrooms, two bathrooms, a combined kitchen and dining area, and no windows. Instead of natural light, each room would be fitted with a dimmable light fixture that mimics the glow of the sun.

[Image: courtesy UCSB]

At a UC board meeting in 2016, Munger himself called windowless student accommodation a “a huge catch.” Explaining that this lighting design was inspired by the lighting used in windowless cabins on Disney cruise ships, Munger argued that the lack of windows would be part of the building’s overall efficiency.

[Image: courtesy UCSB]

“I’m not at all surprised that someone looked at him and said, ‘What’s going on here? »” Munger recently Recount The New York Times of the design. “What is happening here is that it will work better than any other practical alternative.” Along with two other halls of residence built to its design specifications, one at Stanford and another at the University of Michigan, Munger’s design ideas can make headway in higher education architecture.

Munger’s proposal aims to address a specific problem at UC Santa Barbara that many universities face: dilapidated and insufficient student accommodation. Its proposed megadorm of 4,500 residents would ease the pressure on the local housing market while capturing additional housing income for the university, which averages 25,000 undergraduate and graduate students per academic year. According to environmental impact documents, the project would be energy efficient and designed for rapid off-site prefabrication. It could be ready for occupancy by 2025, providing nearly all of the estimated 5,000 additional beds that the university’s long-term development plan predicts it will need.

But according to designers and developers specializing in student housing, dormitory design is only part of ticking technocratic boxes in long-term plans. Student housing must also provide a home for students – the young sentient beings who are the bread and butter of the university system.

Designers like Wuennenberg of KWK Architects say that the design of student housing today must balance energy efficiency with the well-being of the students who live there. “From a sustainability standpoint, natural lighting of the space and not making it dependent on electricity is definitely a good thing and I would say better for you, your psychology and your circadian rhythm. body.” Office designers also recognize these benefits, with newly designed buildings swapping sealed facades for windows that workers can actually open.

KWK Architects recently designed a residence for the University of Colorado Boulder, a 700-bed project that reached the LEED certifications for green buildings highest level in part by favoring natural light. Wuennenberg says simple design movements help achieve environmental and social goals, such as placing windows and seats on stairwell landings to bring in light and air while providing space for one. spontaneous social activity.

“This is an example of the type of sticky spaces that we like to try to develop, where you can get students to interact,” says Wuennenberg. “Ultimately, beyond just providing a bed, we try to provide spaces where students meet, where they develop a unique culture within the residence.”

[Image: courtesy UCSB]

And as spaces where students end up spending the majority of their time, Wuennenberg says residences should also be warm and comfortable. “They have to be durable, they have to be something the staff can maintain, but at the same time, you don’t want it to look like a prison,” he says.

Some dorms end up feeling that way. Ofer Ohad is managing partner of the New York-based development management firm DBI projects, and he says that student housing has historically swapped size for efficiency. “You have small shared rooms and a bathroom down the hall and the absolute minimum size possible,” he says. For a recent student housing project for The location of Bard College in Berlin, DBI worked with New York architects Civilian in an attempt to reverse this trend. The design includes apartment-style bedrooms, with large windows, high ceilings, and spacious living areas, all features that serve as selling points to persuade students to choose campus accommodation instead of entering. in the larger rental market. “We try to be respectful and aware that the students who live there should be treated like adults,” says Ohad.

It turns out that windows are what students and the universities that host them expect from dormitories. LS3P is an architectural firm with offices in the South and it designs new residences and renovates obsolete facilities for colleges and universities. In every type of project, access to natural light and air is a priority, according to Shawn Sowers, the firm’s higher education practice leader. “We have seen a dramatic shift in awareness of wellness and personal care,” she says.

This guided the design of the company for a new residential building at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, a 450-bed residence where each bedroom has an 8-foot-high floor-to-ceiling window. “Students are expecting it now,” says Krissy Ferguson, associate director at LS3P. For universities, student housing competes with off-campus housing. The attractive dorms that convince students to live on campus are ultimately a source of income.

As universities renovate old dormitories, these investments become larger. Energy efficiency and better lighting are essential requirements. “It’s always an asset,” says Ferguson. “On every renovation project I have worked on, the windows are always bigger. “

At UC Santa Barbara, windows seem unlikely to have the same priority. For now, the development of the building proposed by Munger is moving forward.



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