Plans for billion dollar college dormitory are weird mix of jail and utopian

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Billionaire donor leaves cell block to house undergraduates. It was more or less the tl; dr of a burst of recent review in response to plans for a new dormitory at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). A sturdy safe measuring approximately 350 feet wide and 475 feet long which will accommodate 4,500 students on nine identical floors sandwiched between a ground floor and a penthouse with service areas and common areas, the shape of the building is certainly prison. Namely, in the rigid plan of each of the residential floors, the individual rooms are grouped tightly – a fractal of eight “houses” of eight “groups” of eight cells per floor – so that 94% of the rooms will have no windows. on the outside. This particular aspect of the design has been the subject of much of the recent negative criticism of the building. The same is true of the fact that the design is the work of one of the project’s main financiers, investor Charlie Munger, whose Donation of $ 200 million in 2016 came with the outlet that the university must build according to its plans.

Plan of proposed ground floor at Munger Hall, UCSB (image courtesy of UCSB)

Munger is not an architect by training. However, working with the official architect of the project, Los Angeles-based VTBS Architects, he is said to have led the design of the dormitory from the start. Hence these windowless rooms. In an illuminating interview with Architectural file, Munger claimed that the preponderance of interior bedrooms was a functional outcome after excluding shared bedrooms and maximizing common areas, such as the fitness center and gourmet pub planned for the penthouse level. “We ran out of windows,” he told the magazine. “So we just copied what Disney Cruise did. Indeed, the project’s design team is touting “virtual windows” that will provide “circadian rhythm lighting” as well as a robust ventilation system to provide fresh air.

Reliance on technological building systems to such an extent is unconventional for a building with human residents. But while this systems-based approach takes place in Munger Hall, it also highlights the provocative politics of the private room.

Interior rendering of a single bedroom with a virtual window at Munger Hall, UCSB (Image courtesy UCSB)

How well the design of Munger Hall will promote the community aspect of dorm life is based on the original design of her bedroom. The bedrooms, mostly windowless, will be furnished with the essentials of a bed, desk and wardrobe – nothing more will do. It’s a bit of social engineering designed to push students out of their bedrooms and into common areas throughout the building, such as kitchens and large rooms in each of the homes or “our city in the sky,” because the level of the penthouse is called in the design materials. The same spartan furnishings and the missing windows that drew the anger are therefore the crucial elements for the intended use and function of the building.

To better understand this, we can look back nearly a century to a very different housing proposition that was also defined by its lack of bedroom accessories. Cooperative interior is an apartment interior model made by Swiss architect Hannes Meyer in 1926 and published in his essay “The new World.” Designed in the precariousness of 1920s Europe for a passing city dweller, Co-op Interieur was represented by a photo showing the corner of a bare room with a bed, a table with a gramophone, two folding chairs and a bookshelf . It is an image of the void. Floating in that void was a critique of the sickening interiors of the petty bourgeoisie and a demonstration of a new form of life freed from the glut of goods and possessions accumulated in the private home under capitalism. As an architect Pier Vittorio Aureli explains, linking Co-op Interieur to the radically empty apartment interiors recounted by Walter Benjamin during his visit to Moscow in the winter of 1926, “Once the private room is reduced to a minimum, people can fully engage in collective life .

At UCSB, could these demanding exterior windows cling to a current equivalent of bourgeois interior comfort rejected by Meyer and Benjamin? Could the ubiquity of essential building systems like HVAC and circadian rhythm lighting instill a stronger collective feeling? It is unknown. And while Hannes Meyer and Charlie Munger are actually just two strange bedfellows, there is another important parallel between their plans. Namely, everyone uses a moment of uncertainty to propose a new form of life.

Exterior rendering of Munger Hall, UCSB (Image courtesy UCSB)

At UCSB, a long-standing housing shortage has become terrible in the pandemic. And the university faces growing legal pressure from city and county governments for failing to deliver on commitments they made over a decade ago to help protect the availability of local housing stock in return for their approval of its campus development plan . Against this backdrop, it’s hard not to see the university’s rhetoric about common spaces and Munger Hall amenities as belittling the critical issue of the building’s absurd density. It is perhaps the most ruthlessly efficient way to house 4,500 students, virtual windows and all.

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