Student housing remains a kind of transient, yet often contested space and the plan for new dormitories at University of California Santa Barbara UCSB is no different, testing the memories of those who were able to live on-campus during their college years.
if anyone has a way, Berkshire Hathaway to create a dystopian Borg Cube at UCSB. Warren Buffet’s #2 drops a number 2 on the UCSB campus. The 21st Century dormitory as proto-prison, because in sunny California, all you need is adjustable artificial light to relieve SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), because indoor living with natural light is just too expensive in some cases.
From Bauhaus to trap house, this is how lawyers design buildings, reminiscent of the urban density that sparked Japanese sleeping compartments, or carceral living units for those who might violate the penal codes. Perfectly neoliberalized logic for the “Munger Games” and the age of FoxConn suicide nets.
The ‘machine for living’ in a world of figit spinners is easy to satire, considering the numerous failures of Modern architecture in affordable housing. Actually the inflationary rental housing costs in Santa Barbara have created the generational problems not unlike many universities in towns with problematic investment in proximal ‘affordable’ housing as well as the need to expand enrollments to offset expanding budgets.
UC Santa Barbara might think again about making the eighth densest neighborhood on the planet. 97-year old amateur architects probably did like the 1930s NSDAP mass housing. The University of California, Santa Barbara has like the other system campuses, housing issues that are more symptomatic of inflationary costs than environmental sustainability.
It’s like Trump designing a hotel for poor people. This does, however bring the consciousness of SRO hotels to the PMC (Professional-Managerial Class), and is no different than other student housing, other than the crass attempt to scale it up and increase density to minimize costs.
Any Foucauldian approbation should be about how mundane the design is, compared to some of the others in the UC and CSU systems. The real enforced density was the deliberate negation of thoughts about space planning, wind/solar tech, or HVAC’s air-moving in the post-pandemic era. Cramming eight conventional dorm tower blocks together does not solve Le Corbusier’s errors.
“We took Corbusier’s errors and the errors in university housing and eliminated them one by one.”- Charlie Munger
"Munger Hall, in comparison, is a single block housing 4,500 students with two entrances," Dennis McFadden said, and would qualify as the eighth densest neighborhood on the planet, falling just short of Dhaka, Bangladesh. It would be able to house Princeton University's entire undergraduate population, or all five Claremont Colleges."
“I quit UCSB's design review committee because this project, housing 4,500 students in windowless rooms, ignores their physical and emotional well-being as well as environmental sustainability.”
The added irony in all of this is that Dormzilla represents a tradeoff that many urban dwellers understand perfectly well. Like moving into Munger Hall, choosing a dense urban environment over a suburban one often means settling for a cramped apartment and giving up your car, yard and a measure of privacy. In exchange, the restaurants are your dining room, the libraries your office, the bars your parlor, the theater your entertainment room, and the public parks your lawn. In other housing contexts — see Los Angeles’ inward-looking bungalow courts — urbanists rightly pine for this space-efficient style of communal living. Is Dormzilla really so different?
Of course, the root cause of this student housing crisis — the reason the university finds itself needing a behemoth like Dormzilla — is the refusal of UCSB’s neighbors to allow housing construction. Like so many towns and cities in California, the communities around the university are in the thrall of single-family zoning policies that make multifamily developments all but impossible, forcing students and staff to either live far from campus or pay inflated housing prices. In neighboring Goleta, a segregationist zoning code bans apartments nearly citywide, while in unincorporated Isla Vista, densities are strictly capped at 20 units per acre. The city of Santa Barbara has permitted fewer than 500 apartments over the past half-decade — half as many units as down-and-out Detroit built last year — despite enormous demand. (For further context: Each floor of Munger Hall would have more than 500 units.)
To go out on a limb, Dormzilla is hardly a perfect project. Its location on the periphery of campus is far from ideal. Its costs are comically high, even by California standards. The long corridors seem dreary and repetitive. It’s not the dorm that I — or evidently many other people, trained architects or otherwise — would design.
But when you follow housing fights for long enough, you start to realize that there are a million reasons to oppose every new development. This building requires more facade articulation or fewer stories; that one lacks yards and parking. The NIMBY impulse is an unlimited renewable resource, forever coming up with superficially convincing reasons for why nothing should ever be built anywhere. The only way to overcome it is to remain true to one simple fact: We need housing. If we made it easier to build, there would be more to go around. And perhaps some of those new apartments could even come with windows.
Mr. McFadden’s resignation followed an Oct. 5 meeting of the committee over the design, which the university has embraced as it contends with a housing shortage so severe that students have had to be placed in hotels. On its website, the university said that Munger Hall would create “better and more affordable” housing “with flourish and elegance.”
Is it the same when you scale it up seven times?
The answer is at the University of Michigan, where the Munger Graduate Residence Hall houses more than 600 graduate students in 6 to 7 bedroom apartments. And most of those single-occupancy rooms don't have windows, either.
Munger, 97, is Warren Buffett's right-hand man and an amateur architect. He has no formal education in the field.
He's attended the University of Michigan and donated the majority of his $110 million gift to fund his vision of the $185 million dorm. At that time in 2013, it was the largest single donation the school had ever received. Michigan promoted the building as a "community of scholars," where graduate students of different disciplines constantly interact with each other in common areas, where there are windows.
Munger said he based the dorm’s design on the Unité d'Habitation in Marseille by Le Corbusier. But, Munger said, that building “was too narrow to make the spaces interesting. So the whole thing didn’t work worth shit. I’ve fixed that,”
"The best way to get what you want out of life is to deserve what you want." - Charlie Munger
This discourse begs for auto-critique and could be more like what Catherine Liu calls “virtue hoarding” which addressed the kind of virtue signaling that privileges its surplus accumulation of signs. Any solution to housing 4,500 students should address what “student ghettoes” are all about, rather than warehousing them.
Munger’s virtue signal gets the UC system to pick up the costs of running what could be another conventional private, off-campus student housing development and also write off the tax benefits of philanthropy. What’s weirder are all the claims of genius and innovation, in contrast with some real political problems that are more about Town/Gown zoning conflicts.
By contrast, today’s ideal-typical activists are radically different. Our vanguardists of virtue have no time for proselytising among workers–not even notionally. Instead, their goal is distinction, culturally, against a fallen majority, what Hillary Clinton called the “deplorables”. Virtue isn’t spread but hoarded. This explains the curiosity that, even where this group’s libertarian value system enjoys majority support, they continue to act as excluded moral minorities. Rather than stress common ground, which, ironically, has grown abundantly over the neoliberal epoch, they stress whatever makes them better than the masses. Increasingly, this is framed through Star Wars, Harry Potter or Tolkien tropes of plucky, geeky resistance movements, the teacher’s pet who saves the day (again, note the difference with the ideal-typical Trotskyist, who proclaims that the masses are on side even when their parties command miniscule support).
Crucially, while defending the need for a distinct working-class politics, Virtue Hoarders is anything but anti-intellectual. Indeed, perhaps the worst calumny is to believe that critics of professional elites despise learning and cultural innovation. The truth is quite the opposite. PMC domination dresses up conformity as a war on cultural backwardness. It is defiantly middle brow (witness the liberal obsession with “woke” superhero movies). And if a meaningful intellectual current does emerge from the wreckage of contemporary capitalism, it may well begin from the demystification of PMC liberal mores.
Of course, if you lived in New York in the 1970s or 1980s, chances are you wouldn’t regard the demise of the SRO as a bad thing. The city had a lot of demons back then, but the single-room-occupancy hotel was a special favorite of local media. Nightmarish news stories about SROs were a regular feature of city life. One 1973 headline screamed: “The Pierrepont: A Brooklyn Horror House.” There, according to the story, “whores shout down from the windows to their pimps on the sidewalk and the pimps shout back. Sometimes the girls hang out the windows stark naked.” Or there was this 1974 story: “Single-Room-Occupancy Hotels Were Home to 16 Slain in Year.”
And those are New York Times headlines. You can imagine what the reports were like in the Post.
SROs, where people could rent a small, cheap private room (often with a shared bathroom), no questions asked, used to be commonplace. New York City and most other American cities were once full of options for people without much money, places where they could easily live from night to night or week to week. (Other possibilities were flophouses, which offered beds but little privacy, or boardinghouses — private homes with rooms for rent.) While we’ve long been told that homelessness became a problem because mental institutions were shut down and the patients had no place to go but the streets, Houghton points out that SROs initially absorbed the deinstitutionalized population and the migration of troubled people to the sidewalks and subways really began when the SROs started to shut down.
SROs were largely an outgrowth of the Depression. Circa 1950, the number of single-room-occupancy beds in New York peaked at around 200,000. The conventional wisdom by the 1970s was that they were bad news, a root cause of crime and blight. Or, as an unnamed officer at the 20th Precinct — on the Upper West Side, then home to many SROs — told a Times reporter: “What should happen is to just close them down.” And, indeed, most of them were shuttered, not by the police but by real-estate values and tax incentives that made it attractive to demolish them or convert them to another use.
Charles Munger on intelligence"It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent."
2/ Great money management:
The donor provides $200m and the university commits to constructing a $1.5bn building.
I think this means that the donor will fund 0.08% of the cost for this project.
(There's a lot of 000s here so correct me if I'm wrong.)
3/ Blanket top-down decisions made by admin without consultation:
Because the donor has agreed to fund 0.08% of the project (ie. less than 1%) they have been allowed to decide on the plans for the building. This is non-negotiable and the blueprints cannot be changed.
4/ Architect Dennis McFadden resigned from UCSB’s Design Review Committee in protest about this lack of consultation process.
“The design was described as 100% complete, approval was not requested, no vote was taken, and no further submittals are intended or required.”
5/ The marketing of student experience without any real consideration of student experience:
UCSB seems to think that providing prison-like conditions for its students is an adequate response to its housing crisis.
6/ There are students here on Twitter explaining that the proposed dorm rooms would actually be an improvement on their current living conditions in shared dormitories.
This does not mean the “Munger Hall” design is good. It just means that current conditions are terrible.
7/ Agile, flexible, superb ability to respond to changing circumstances:
A mega-dorm housing 4,500 students with very little open-air ventilation. Sounds perfect for the post-Covid era. I’m sure this is going to go well.
8/ Universities are just like corporations, look at how many similarities they share.
(Yes, some of these posts have been tongue-in-cheek.)
9/ See "Munger Hall" plans here:
10/ Comparison to prison cell here:
(Norwegian prison cells come out on top - at least prisoners there get some natural light through a window.)
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