Independent Review Panel Finds UCSB’s Dormzilla “Unwise” and Poses “Significant Health and Safety Risks”

The fate of Munger Hall remains as opaque as its windowless bedrooms.
Screenshot of Munger Hall
Screenshot: UCSB

It would be “unwise for [the University of California Santa Barbara] to proceed” with building Munger Hall, better known on the internet as Dormzilla—the 4,500-bed residence hall planned for the University of California Santa Barbara thanks to a $200 million donation by billionaire investor and amateur architect Charles Munger with mostly windowless bedrooms—due to the “significant health and safety risks that are predictable enough, probable enough and consequential enough,” a panel of experts found according to a report obtained by Motherboard.


The 200-page report was the product of five months of study by a panel of 13 experts appointed by the school’s faculty senate. It is the first known independent analysis of the building’s extremely controversial design, done by Munger himself, packing thousands of students into a building with 70 square-feet bedrooms, 94 percent of which have no access to natural light, as the ostensible fix to the university’s student housing crisis. The planned dorm went viral after a consulting architect on the project resigned in protest in October 2021, calling it a “social and psychological experiment with an unknown impact on the lives and personal development of the undergraduates the university serves” in his resignation letter. The university and Munger himself refuted that interpretation, but the letter made international news and sparked an uproar in Santa Barbara specifically. 

In November 2021, the university’s Academic Senate convened a town hall meeting with administrators to discuss the project. One result from that town hall was the creation of a panel of experts to do an independent review of Munger Hall’s design. The panel was mostly comprised of UCSB professors, although a student representative, an architect, and a clinical psychologist were also on the panel. 


The panel’s findings, which were reported to the academic senate on October 31 and sent to UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang on November 15, largely backs the widespread criticism of Munger Hall. The panel reviewed full-size mockups of the dorm’s design, spoke to the project’s leaders, conducted extensive surveys among students and faculty, and used the in-house expertise of the university’s professors to consult existing literature on the relevant subject. The panel concluded it could not support the current design unless major modifications are made. While the report cites reams of academic literature and extensive surveying to support its findings that the building plausibly jeopardizes the mental health and physical well-being of future UCSB students, perhaps the most telling aspect is that the word “prison” appears 41 times, including in a section titled “Massiveness and Density: Prison-like Design.”

Specifically, the panel identified “five essential design modifications” that it believes would “address the major risks and concerns” Munger Hall presents. There should be “operable windows to each multi-bedroom suite”—a mini-common area for eight bedrooms—”and to as many bedrooms as possible” although most bedrooms will not have an external-facing wall; the size of each single bedroom should be increased; the population density should be reduced, and cooking appliances should be added to each suit kitchenette which serves eight students rather than the current plan for a large kitchen serving 63 students each (Munger Hall has no dining hall nor is there one nearby). 

In a statement to Motherboard, UCSB spokesperson Kiki Reyes provided the response the Munger Hall Project Team gave to the review panel, which says “The recommendations in the report offered by our campus experts and the feedback we have received across the campus community these past several months—both positive and critical—are essential to the ongoing planning process as the campus works to create housing options where generations of UC Santa Barbara students can thrive for decades to come.” The team states they are working on adding the additional windows to student suites and incorporating ventilation shafts to the suites to allow for cooking. Alluding to bedroom sizes, the letter states “Modifications that impact the University’s target of providing a total of 3,500 on-campus beds over the next several years and our goal of making housing affordable (an aim of 20-30 percent below market rate) represent a meaningful challenge and will require thoughtful consideration.” Additionally, the Munger Hall design has already removed two residential floors from the building, reducing the building’s potential population by some 1,000 students.

Even before the panel reached its findings, the fate of Munger Hall was far from clear. An environmental review still has to be approved by the California Coastal Commission and given the widespread opposition to the building, it is likely opponents will use that venue to sue in an attempt to block the project. Separately, UCSB is being sued by Santa Barbara County and the city of Goleta for throwing out a previous legally-binding development agreement to address the housing crisis so it could pursue Munger Hall. UCSB’s paper the Daily Nexus reports there is no longer a target date for construction to begin.

Correction: This article previously misidentified the city suing UCSB as Golina. It is Goleta. UCSB is not being sued by a small town in central Poland. We regret the error.