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There's a Controversy Over Charlie Munger's Design for a Big Dorm at UCSB

Gerard Miller | CNBC

Charlie Munger's architectural design for a new, large dormitory at the University of California, Santa Barbara is getting attention after an architect on the school's Design Review Committee quit because he thinks it doesn't include enough natural light.

The 11-story, $1.5 billion building with 1.68 million square feet of space would house 4,536 undergraduates. It's meant to address a severe shortage of residential space at the school that has drawn threats of lawsuits.

Munger, the Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, is interested in architecture as well as investing. Warren Buffett's long-time business partner is donating millions to help foot the bill for the building — on the condition he plays a big role in designing it.

The proposed building features groups of eight single bedrooms organized into suites. The bedrooms don't have windows but common areas do and there are lots of them.

It features amenities including a rooftop fitness center, recreation room, gastro pub, juice bar, "grab n go" market, landscaped courtyard, and, of course, surfboard storage. 

Munger Hall

Munger's concept is to increase the number of students the building can hold while still giving them some privacy and encouraging them to spend a lot of their time in the common areas for socializing and collaboration. 

(A UCSB presentation for a hearing in July includes many drawings and plans, along with technical details.)

The Santa Barbara Independent reports that architect Dennis McFadden, with 15 years on the review panel, resigned because the design is "unsupportable from my perspective as an architect, a parent, and a human being."

In a letter to the school, McFadden wrote there is a lot of evidence that interiors with "natural light, air, and views to nature improve both the physical and mental wellbeing of occupants. The Munger Hall design ignores this evidence and seems to take the position that it doesn't matter."

McFadden argued that as the "'vision' of a single donor, the building is a social and psychological experiment with an unknown impact on the lives and personal development of the undergraduates the university serves."

In an interview with Bloomberg, Munger defended his concept. "Everybody loves light and everybody prefers natural light. But it's a game of tradeoffs. If you build a big square building, everything is conveniently near to everybody in the building. If you maximize the light, you get fewer people in the building."

Munger told Bloomberg the dorm is an "improved version" of a building housing graduate students at the University of Michigan that he helped design and pay for.

 "I was just there last month. We picked students at random and they're all crazy about it. We're copying the existing building that's a great success and we improved on it."

The project still faces additional reviews and approvals.

 The school hopes to have it ready to open in the fall of 2025.

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