This blog collects a grab bag of observations and critiques from my time at Munger Graduate Residences I haven’t had a chance to share elsewhere,
I hope this information can help inform discussion of the planned Munger dorm project at UCSB.
🔗 Misplaced Priorities
Premium roof-level square footage (with large exterior windows) was afforded for a university-operated convenience store. It did not appear to carry a meaningful grocery selection (instead, items were along the lines of granola bars and hot pockets) and seemed aimed at students that were part of U of M’s “blue bucks” dining system. Most students I knew at Munger were not enrolled in a dining plan. I hardly ever saw anyone shop in it. The lights in the store were off most of the time.
The basement featured full body massage chairs and a movie theater. Neither of these appeared particularly well utilized.
The rooftop featured all-glass parapets with full-glass ceilings. These huge skylights lit just the upper flight of a secondary staircase — somewhere nobody could expect to spend more than just a few seconds passing through on odd occasions. This staircase already had many windows on every level for natural light.
Some resident furniture was low quality or dubiously selected. For example, bed frames were equipped with only a sparse spring suspension (no solid panels to hold body weight). In order to be comfortable, I had to put the mattress on the floor. Dining chairs (meant to double as work chairs at the dining room table) were heavy cloth (!!) swivels that could not be adjusted for height and were too heavy to be easily moved.
Much has been made about students preferring the privacy of single-occupant rooms. However, without proper sound proofing this benefit cannot be fully realized. It was easy to make out conversational voices and meal prep noises from the common space, even sounds of people eating. It isn’t the worst soundproofing I’ve experienced in a dorm, but it was poor enough to be a regular annoyance and a severe impediment to privacy. Amusingly enough, the U of M Munger project was originally pitched as ensuring “perfect” sound proofing.
Although gripes are to some extent par for the course for student housing, it was surprising to see such practical oversights and cut corners given the ostentatious and obviously expensive character of other parts of the building.
🔗 Ventilation and Climate Control
At U of M Munger, we ostensibly had individualized climate controls within our rooms. However, our thermostats operated a bit like the allegorical elevator “close door” button. You can toggle the temperature up or down a few degrees, but it wouldn’t be clear if anything had changed (no discernible mechanical noises or indications). Even hours later no change in temperature was apparent. I’m a bit of a hot sleeper, so I regretted not having any meaningful control here, whereas in a normal building, you could open a window.
Munger’s UCSB project promises in-room ventilation at twice the volume required.
At U of M’s Graduate Residences, there is no option to control air flow at all in the room. Not even the illusion of being able to turn up air flow is provided. At the fixed-baseline level there was no clear feeling of air movement. I have no doubts that adequate flow was provided to maintain safe, healthy air. However, not being able to have any control over air flow (as you would by opening a window) or being able to take any action to vent out the room was disappointing.
Justification for windowless rooms notes that “humans sleep well in the dark.” However, led lights within the thermostat and within the ventilation machinery mounted over the door cast dim light into the room at all hours. These lights could not be disabled. The presence of immutable artificial light coupled with the absence of any natural or ambient light was particularly frustrating.
Mental health effects of a living space without visible daylight vary from resident to resident. For me, the most distressing part of windowless living was waking up and having no clue what time it was — in that moment of flashing awake it could very well be 2pm or 9am. This led to many moments of anxiety and dread.
Sleeping rooms did contain thin transom windows that opened onto the hallway that connected to the main living space. However, leaving the screen up over these windows meant letting in the hallway lights at night. I do not understand why these transom windows were provided, except possibly to tick a box in a building code requirement.
🔗 Security Issues
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Although there was primary key card authentication on all exterior doors, ███████ ███████ ███████ made it easy enough to get in the building without a keycard. Before the pandemic, it became difficult to find space in the study areas ostensibly set aside for residents on the top floor because many undergraduates discovered how easy it was to access the swanky graduate facilities. In fact, I had a job interview scheduled with an undergraduate with whom I arranged to meet up with at Munger. At our appointment time, I was surprised to find he had already arrived and picked out a choice spot for our meeting from among his favorites.
Door locks were battery operated. When they ran out of battery, facility services would have to enter and drill them out to replace the battery. This unfortunately meant residents could unexpectedly find themselves locked out of their room for several hours when their lock’s battery died.
Munger Graduate Residences boasts many laudable amenities, some of which are quite clever and innovative. The basement bicycle storage room’s access way makes a great example. The bicycle room is on a maybe half-lower level from the entryway. This would normally require residents to navigate stairs with their bicycle over their shoulder. However, a simple foot-wide concrete ramp with inch-wide wheel ruts was installed on either side of the stairs so bicycles could be easily wheeled straight to the storage area.
However, the Graduate Residence’s architecture and construction is also plagued with unusual errors, out of touch design, and questionable trade-offs — often in apparent favor of prestige features over livability. It is a shame that Munger’s projects explicitly refuse input from campus stakeholders. Such input could go far to improving the building quality for the well-being of dorm residents and the university at large.
🔗 Let’s Chat
I would love to hear your thoughts, questions, and comments. Jump on to the twitter thread below.