Opinion: Billionaire capitalist Charlie Munger’s architectural taste is, well, Stalinist
Charlie Munger is a capitalist, so he should know that ego-driven mega-projects meant to warehouse thousands of humans are a hallmark of collectivist authoritarian regimes that rarely turn out well. Think the ghastly Ryugyong Hotel in North Korea or, as one letter writer pointed out, the defunct Rossiya Hotel in Moscow.
Perhaps the abundance of cautionary examples of what Munger wants to do — donate $200 million toward a massive $1.5-billion dormitory at UC Santa Barbara, which he gets to design, and where nearly all of the planned 4,500 residents would live in windowless rooms — is why so many readers have written to express incredulity that the university would even consider allowing a billionaire to conduct such an extreme communal-living experiment on students.
Architects, psychologists and UCSB alumni have been writing to The Times since this project started getting widespread attention recently; we’ve already published some of those letters. They’ve continued sending us their commentary on what many of them view as a profound betrayal by campus administrators to the undergraduates under their charge and the kowtowing of yet more institutions to billionaire donors.
To the editor: Fifty years ago, at UC Santa Barbara, I lived in the Anacapa dorm with a window gloriously looking out over the Pacific Ocean. I still remember vividly, early one morning before my first final exam, watching with great astonishment as the sun rose over the ocean horizon.
This surprising West Coast anomaly was possible because the Santa Barbara County coast in this area runs mostly east-west, and UC Santa Barbara on Goleta Point reaches out southward toward the Channel Islands.
I hate to imagine what students forced to reside in Munger Hall, mostly in rooms without windows, will remember in 50 years.
Shame on the university.
Lloyd Elliott, Berkeley
To the editor: As an architect, I have followed your articles on the Munger Hall proposal. It is interesting that university administrators believe approving dormitories with fake windows is appropriate.
We teach the values of honesty, integrity and humanity at our public universities. So fake windows and fake habitats just do not fit with education.
What parent would spend even $1 to rent a fake prison cell for their kids? How about a fake education? The entire process of education should be real.
Jim Heimler, Tarzana
To the editor: As a 2015 graduate of UC Santa Barbara who went on to become an architect, I recognize that my career inspiration came from the site-specific architecture of the university.
I lived amid human-scale buildings with breezy loggias and airy corridors, meandering paths through varied landscape, and environment-driven, passive design.
The proposed Munger Hall, with its unnatural environment and wasteful reliance on energy-intensive technology, strikes me as the antithesis of this ethos. It is at odds with urgent global efforts to create sustainable buildings that support a vital relationship between humankind and the world we inhabit.
Evan Shaner, Marina del Rey
To the editor: This new Munger Hall does not take into account the unique needs of teens and young adults. Their brains will not be fully developed until around age 25.
Until then, their sleep cycles cause them to stay awake late into the night and sleep in the daytime. Most need natural lighting as a prompt to force themselves to wake up for class.
Surviving college is already a challenge. Without a balanced sleep-wake existence, they will struggle even more.
And, I imagine, the campus health center will be inundated with new cases of claustrophobia.
Leslee Koritzke, Altadena
The writer is a psychology professor at Los Angeles Trade Technical College.
To the editor: UC Santa Barbara has a duty to house its students, and it has failed to keep its commitments. Students are living in their cars.
When I was in graduate school there in 1974, I was grateful to live in a newly built student housing complex that was superior to privately held rental properties in all ways. They did windows then.
In recent years I have felt proud of the multiplying flags on campus honoring the many Nobel laureates associated with UC Santa Barbara. It seems to me that in the roughly 50 years since I was a student, the university leadership has acquired a lot of big brains, but not much common sense.
Based on my own past service on the California Coastal Commission, we can expect that the university will consider, eventually, the policies of the Coastal Act that development be sited and designed to be visually compatible with the character of surrounding areas.
The $200 million is a fraction of the money that will have to be allocated to this nonsense. University leaders should tell Munger to direct his conditional “gift” to where it is needed: housing the students living in their cars, now.
Munger says he doesn’t care about his critics. But like all billionaires looking for naming rights, he does care how he is remembered. Who will have the courage to tell him thanks, but no thanks?
Jana Zimmer, Santa Barbara
To the editor: I can only imagine the UC Santa Barbara residence hall webpage listing when Munger’s project is finished — Anacapa, Manzanita Village, Santa Cruz, Santa Catalina, San Miguel, San Nicolas, San Rafael and, well, San Quentin.
Don’t do it, UCSB.
Peter Teng, Santa Ana
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