Architect Says Billionaire’s Dystopian Dorm Design Is a Dangerous Social and Psychological Experiment

Architect Says Billionaire’s Dystopian Dorm Design Is a Dangerous Social and Psychological Experiment
Photo: Nati Harnik, AP

Incoming University of Santa Barbara students will soon get to inhabit a 97-year-old billionaire’s twisted mindspace: a 1.68-million-square-foot windowless death trap which UCSB is describing as a “dorm,” designed by Berkshire Hathaway vice chairman and evidently-rising-architect Charlie Munger.

The Santa Barbara Independent reports that architect Dennis McFadden has resigned from the school’s Design Review Committee in protest over the planned Munger Hall, calling the 11-story mixed-use cellblock of academic halls and inward-facing compartments “a social and psychological experiment” with unknown impacts on thousands of subjects in the coming years. It will warehouse up to 4,500 students, 94 per cent of whom will sleep in pods equipped with what appears to be artificial sunlight panels and bunks wedged into the wall, spending their formative years winding through eight-bedroom containers. Like rats. McFadden said the building only has two entrances (!) and it’s unclear how accessible any emergency exits are or how robust the ventilation system is.

Illustration: UC Santa Barbara Illustration: UC Santa Barbara

The place is gonna stink.

(In a press release, UCSB does not display images of the dorm rooms but the Independent obtained some renderings.)

When you need to go up for oxygen and sunlight, UCSB points out in a press release that a walled-in rooftop “courtyard” offers amenities such as “natural ventilation” (air) and “an open view of the sky” (freedom, an illusion).

UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang has called it “an unprecedented residential experience.” Prison is similar, except here you pay rent. It does have retail space. And academic halls. And food.

They’ll never need to leave.

The university has already moved ahead without a vote or approval process because Munger has money, the Santa Barbara Independent reports. Munger paid the school $266 million to let him install his creation on campus so long as they adhered precisely to his blueprints.

In an outraged letter to campus architect Julie Hendricks, McFadden said that there was no research presented to examine the human toll, that it would represent the eighth densest neighbourhood on Earth. It is, he wrote, “unsupportable from my perspective as an architect, a parent, and a human being.” He echoes the righteousness of George Bailey, except in a world where the banker just pays for everything, and that’s the end, and people live in Mungerville, which is an actual location. Per a Wall Street Journal report on his architectural ventures:

Although Mr. Munger never formally studied architecture, he has experience developing real estate in Southern California. He built a community of luxury beachfront properties called Sea Meadow in Montecito, Calif., in the 1980s and ’90s, which his friends call Mungerville.

But people love Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet’s sidekick and investment sage. There must be a lesson in this. For one, there’s the old good, cheap, and fast rule, and you can’t have all three; this is cheap and fast. Each floor is only supposed to take 20 days of construction, and the university extols the modular prefab unit concept for its cost savings.

Or, if you work hard enough, someday you get a fire escape.

Gizmodo has reached out to UCSB, Munger, and McFadden for comment and will update the post if we hear back.