UCSB students march against Munger Hall design, university responds to national criticism
“No window, no way.”
That was one of the signs as UCSB students rallied Friday in protest of the university’s plans to build an 11-story, largely windowless residence building named Munger Hall.
A large number gathered on campus, where they listened to speakers in front of the library and marched toward Storke Tower. They made themselves seen and heard, chanting against the hall and carrying signs such as this one: “We are not a social experiment: We demand livable housing.”
Another sign referred to the windowless rooms by saying “We are not sardines.”
The building, designed by 97-year-old billionaire and amateur architect Charlie Munger, does not include windows in student rooms but incorporates an artificial light source programmed to circadian rhythm. Fresh air will be pumped in at twice the rate of building and mechanical code standards.
Mr. Munger donated $200 million to UCSB, requiring his designs to be followed exactly. The project is estimated to cost $1.4 billion.
Navy Banvard, the managing principal of Van Tilburg, Banvard, and Soderbergh, AIA, refined Mr. Munger’s sketches.
The residence hall would house 4,500 students, divided into “houses” and eight-person suites. Residents would have their own bedroom and share two bathrooms, a common area and kitchenette with seven other suitemates.
Additional kitchen and game spaces are located on every floor and feature windows. Mr. Munger’s design was intended to promote collaboration.
The controversial project prompted architectural consultant Dennis McFadden’s resignation from the design review committee. His resignation letter repeatedly refers to Munger Hall as an “experiment.”
“In the nearly 15 years I served as a consulting architect to the DRC, no project was brought before the committee that is larger, more transformational and potentially more destructive to the campus as a place than Munger Hall,” he wrote.
Petitions are circulating online, hoping UCSB will halt Munger Hall. Nearly 10,000 people have signed one change.org petition in a matter of days.
As the students protested, opposition grew. The Santa Barbara chapter of the American Institute of Architects voiced its objections in a letter emailed to the News-Press shortly after Friday’s demonstration.
“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,” stated the letter, signed by AIASB President Tai Yeh and more than two dozen AIA members or AIA Fellows.
“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.”
The letter went on to say, “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 Hall’s substandard housing because they have no other choice.”
The controversial dorm has caught the attention of national news organizations, such as CNN, the New York Times, NBC News and more.
In the face of growing opposition, UCSB maintains a positive outlook for the future of the residence building.
“Munger Hall is designed to provide transformational co-living student housing that is affordable, safe and secure, within a mixed-use format. It is meant to build community, encourage peer-to-peer interaction, promote engagement and relationship building, foster an environment of learning and support, and provide necessary resources and amenities to support a 24/7 on-campus living experience,” UCSB spokesperson Andrea Estrada sent in a statement.
“Additionally, the University recognizes that the living arrangements proposed for Munger Hall may not be right for everyone. But it will offer another housing option for students who want to live on campus and prefer private bedrooms attached to community areas.”
She said mischaracterizations of the design have spread.
One belief is that the building has two entrances/exits. But the design actually features two main entrances and 14 secondary doors as well.
UCSB currently houses 10,000 students in double- and triple-occupancy rooms. Groups have been advocating for more student housing for years.
Students Friday were also concerned about the university’s temporary fix to what many call a housing crisis. Approximately 350 students are currently living in hotel rooms through a UCSB housing contract that is set to expire soon.
One of them carried a sign at the protest, saying “Extend my hotel contract.”
Ms. Estrada provided the following information regarding those contracts:
“The hotel accommodations for students were meant as temporary, emergency accommodations and were intended to give them additional time to find permanent housing or until spaces become available in existing university housing or in the local community.
“The number of students in hotels changes daily, as campus housing opens up and students relocate to other accommodations in the local community. Residence halls are mostly closed over the winter break, and the university is exploring options if there are students in December who are still unable to find off-campus housing and have not been offered campus housing when winter quarter begins.”
News-Press Managing Editor Dave Mason contributed to this story