University of California abandons plans to build “windowless dorm” Munger Hall

Death to Dormzilla?

University of California abandons plans to build “windowless dorm” Munger Hall

Munger Hall (Courtesy UCSB)

The people have spoken: let there be natural light! The University of California has scrapped controversial plans for Munger Hall, a dormitory building with a scant number of windows at U.C. Santa Barbara (UCSB) patronized by billionaire Charles Munger

In 2021, UCSB unveiled renderings of a 12-story building designed to accommodate 4,500 students in rooms tucked behind circulation corridors that wrapped the building’s perimeter, without daylighting. Upon its release, UCSB officials hailed Munger Hall as “absolutely stunning.The proposal—from Santa Monica, California–based firm Van Tilburg, Banvard, & Soderbergh (VTBS)—was inspired by Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation in Marseille. If completed, Munger Hall would have been the “largest dormitory in the world.

While Munger touted his design’s homage to Corb, other interlocutors called his building “Dormzilla” for its inhumane scale and windowless ensemble. This week, after much backlash, UCSB announced that it will not be moving forward with the plans designed by Munger and VTBS. Instead, the administration has issued an RFQ for alternatives to deliver 3,500 student beds with a budget of $600 to 750 million. The Santa Barbara Independent reported Charles Munger has since withdrawn from the project.

Following its 2021 announcement, over 14,000 people signed a petition to halt Munger Hall’s construction. Shortly after, faculty in UCSB’s architecture program started their own petition, garnering over 3,000 signatures from building industry professionals and concerned citizens around the country. Dennis McFadden, a Los Angeles architect, and member of UCSB’s design review committee, resigned from his post after 15 years in the university system out of protest.

Typical floor plan at Munger Hall (Courtesy UCSB)

For many, Munger Hall embodied the bottom-line driven ethos of corporate philanthropism that often prioritizes quantity over quality; and the sad state of academia where, thanks to funding shortfalls, universities must bow to whoever can pick up the tab.

As previously reported by AN, windowless dormitories are proven to have serious mental health consequences for students, but they’re not illegal. To address the city’s housing crisis, New York Mayor Eric Adams floated a similar idea to Munger, calling for stripping legislation that promises each city citizen window access this past March. “Why can’t we do a real examination of the rules that state every bedroom must have a window?” Adams asked in a group conversation at The Green Space. “You don’t need no window where you’re sleeping, it should be dark!”

In 2022, AN contributor Juan Miró wrote about the disturbing trend taking hold in Texas of windowless student dorms proliferating at UT Austin. “From the moment you wake up, it is a very confusing and anxious experience,” one student told Miro. “While being in my windowless room, I have experienced symptoms of depression and fatigue quite often. It is very hard to get motivated, almost to the point where you feel trapped,” said another.

Such “disturbing” instances at UT Austin and UCSB have prompted new conversations about the precarious state of universities, and which basic dignities should be afforded to students. Submittals for the new student dormitory at UCSB are due on August 18, windows required.