Have you heard about the new dormitory that is in the planning stages at the University of California, Santa Barbara? The proposal is for an 11-story building that would house 4,500 students. The designer, billionaire Charles Munger, is not an architect. He’s donating $200 million to the University under the condition that he design the building and that it carries his name.
There’s quite a bit of controversy about the building because 94% of the 7 x 10-foot dorm rooms will not have windows and will depend on artificial light, among other mechanical, electrical, and wireless systems. Munger says that his building will have virtual windows with LED screens that will mimic natural light. To me, it sounds like a huge social experiment without a good outcome.
Access to natural light and fresh air are primary aspects of healthy living and healthy buildings. We already know that our society is heavily stressed, and that young people are carrying a disproportionate level of it. Living in small, windowless rooms with artificial light could be damaging to their physical, spiritual, and mental health. On the other hand, if the students only sleep in these rooms, they might be able to sleep in a dark space. The lack of fresh air is also troublesome though.
Safety is another factor. What happens in the event of a power outage or even a fire? How do 4,500 people exit quickly and safely? If another pandemic occurs, and chances are it will, what happens when 4,500 stay enclosed in such small cell-like spaces, without access to natural light and fresh air?
There’s a huge housing shortage in the Santa Barbara area. A better solution would be to limit the number of students rather than cram so many into a huge windowless building. Time will tell how this will work out.
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