Billionaire Charlie Munger is bankrolling the design of a massive dormitory at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The $1.5 billion project comes with a major catch — 94% of the dorm’s single occupancy rooms are in the interior of the building, and have no windows.
A consulting architect on the university’s Design Review Committee quit in protest of the project, in a resignation letter obtained by CNN Business and reported by the Santa Barbara Independent…
Munger, the 97-year-old vice chairman of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, donated $200 million to UCSB to fund the dorms, with the caveat that his designs are followed. He wanted the dorm rooms to be tiny and windowless to encourage residents to spend more time outside in the common areas, meeting other students…
The rooms do have artificial windows, however, which Munger said resemble the Disney cruise ship’s artificial portholes where “starfish come in and wink at your children,” the Santa Barbara Independent reported.
The debate between Munger and the architect seems to come down to differing opinions on what the optimal residential experience is. Munger hopes that no windows would help students leave their rooms. The architect wants students to have access to natural light. Architecture often has ideas about how people in spaces should operate based on the physical surroundings. As my sociologist colleague Robert Brenneman and I argue in Building Faith, religious buildings are also built with specific experiences and behaviors in mind.
Three other factors connected to larger trends are interesting here:
From what I have read, the demand for single-person rooms has increased at colleges. This provides students more private space. But, this may limit sociability and it could increase costs for everyone because more space is needed.
I wonder what role smartphones play in all of this. Even with a window, smartphone use is pretty pervasive. Even with smartphone use, natural light and seeing the outside world has benefits.
People with money and influence sometimes want to translate that status into physical buildings. If you have big money, you can help plan a significant building or attach your name to it. It would be interesting to see how long Munger’s name would continue to be attached to this particular building.
The Apex 400 development, a new apartment building, is rising next door to the Santa Fe Mexican Restaurant along Main Street. A parking garage that’s still under construction stands almost right up against the exterior wall of the popular dining spot, blocking its southern-facing windows.
Stuck staring out at concrete, the family owners of the restaurant — serving Glen Ellyn for nearly 40 years — sought to give their customers new views…
The mural project became a collaboration between Cudworth and the second-generation owners of Santa Fe, siblings Reyna and Olga Jiménez. Their parents, Irineo and Teresa Jimenez, opened the restaurant and raised six children…
He first expanded an existing hacienda mural in the back of the restaurant to 22 feet wide. In the front, he stretched canvas over the two boarded-up, framed windows and painted from photographs that he was given and researched of San Miguel, Mexico.
This solution of painting a mural is a clever one given the options. While this is not public art since it is inside a property, it has similar functions: to complement what the business provides, to enhance the aesthetics of the space, and involve other members of the community/area. It can be difficult to move on from the loss of natural light yet this art may obscure for future diners that windows were once here.
As the days lengthen and the sun and warmer weather is more common at this time of year, I recently thought about the time I have spent in windowless rooms. Three instances came to mind:
-I worked for years at WETN, the radio station at Wheaton College, which was located in the middle of the basement of the Billy Graham Center. Outside of the ends of the basement which open into parking lots, there are no windows in any of the rooms along this long basement. Going into the studios for hours at a time, putting on headphones, and working with audio software left little time for thinking about natural light. However, when I would emerge from the building, the contrast was jarring, whether I had entered on a winter afternoon and came out for dinner at 5 PM and it was dark or entered on a sunny Sunday morning and came out five hours later. (The studios had large windows between them but this just offered a view of a hallway with florescent lights.)
-For a trip to London, we ended up booking several hotel nights in a windowless room. This cost us less than a room with windows – we could have paid more for this luxury – and we had limited options for hotels due to a busy time of the year. On one hand, we were not planning to spend much time in a hotel while on vacation. How much time do people stare out the window while on vacation in a city? On the other hand, it was strange to return to and wake up in a windowless place.
-During college, I lived in our basement when at home for summer and breaks. I had a little natural light from two window wells but not much and I was often gone during the day at work. I think I noticed the temperature difference more than the lack of light; the cool setting was much appreciated during the summer. Of course, I could go upstairs when needed to get light.
Perhaps this is not actually that much time in windowless spaces. Many offices or dwellings likely have rooms with no windows. I have been in such spaces for temporary situations and my current dwelling and office have plenty of windows.
I can see how many people find natural light necessary. Should it be required in all dwellings? While I can survive in spaces without it, it makes a big difference to have natural light. I would prefer to have natural light than use artificial light, particularly the whiter institutional light.
I watch my fair share of shows on HGTV and I recently noticed something: many of blinds or shades are closed when the interior of the homes are shown. This could be for multiple reasons:
Lighting issues. Windows can produce glare either from interior or exterior lighting.
The shows may be filming at night. Looking out into blackness is not that appealing.
Blocking off the windows means the show can emphasize the interior and perhaps particularly show new window treatments.
These are good reasons to cover the windows. Yet, it strikes me that taking this action means the private nature of the home is emphasized even more. HGTV homes tend to emphasize the actions of the nuclear family inside the new home. Sometimes, the yard is really important to the homebuyers or homeowners but even then, the exterior is far less important than the interior spaces where it is presumed the family will spend more time.
Additionally, blocking off what is outside the windows ignores one of the most important features of homes: location, location, location. HGTV shows spend little time showing the neighborhood. Again, even when the characters are really tied to a location or neighborhood, this is primarily conveyed verbally and then the rest of the show focuses on interiors. Thus, not only do we not see much of the neighborhood, we also do not always see what the homeowners would see out their own windows.
All of this makes more sense when it is placed into the larger context of the American ideal of a single-family home on its own plot of land inhabited by a nuclear family. This is a powerful ideal, particularly for HGTV’s target demographic.