Charles Munger isn’t as well-known as Warren Buffett, for whom he has long served as right-hand man at the Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate.
But the 97-year-old, like the Oracle of Omaha, is a Nebraska native, a billionaire in his own right, and a prodigious philanthropist.
He is also, apparently, something of an amateur architect. And his hobby and his financial largesse have combined to spark controversy in his adopted Southern California home.
Five years ago, Munger announced he would donate $200 million toward a new building to alleviate a housing crunch at the University of California-Santa Barbara — on the condition that his blueprints be followed exactly.
Details weren’t disclosed at the time, but they’re available now: the $1.5 billion Munger Hall would be the largest dormitory in the world, an 11-story block that would house up to 4,500 students in small, single-occupancy rooms — the vast majority without windows.
The university, according to the Santa Barbara Independent, described “Charlie’s Vision” as one in which students would be encouraged to leave their tiny rooms and mingle with others in the building’s common areas.
But professional architects contend that the proposed complex would have an unknown and potentially harmful impact on UCSB undergraduates.
The project’s consulting architect, Dennis McFadden, resigned in a scathing letter in which he called the proposal “a social and psychological experiment” that ignores ample evidence of the benefits of natural light and views.
McFadden also suggested that the plans were endorsed without a vote from a university review panel, and noted that the building would appear “alien” on the Santa Barbara campus — arguably one of the most picturesque on Earth. He wrote that he could not support Munger Hall as “as an architect, a parent, and a human being.”
University officials indicated in a presentation earlier this year that they anticipate the new dorm will open to students in the fall of 2025.