SAHARA Highlights: Dormitories

by Jacqueline Spafford and Mark Hinchman, SAHARA Co-Editors | Nov 05, 2021

The backlash to the Munger Hall dormitory design proposal at the University of California, Santa Barbara—aka “Dormzilla”—has sparked a newly-energized conversation around acceptable housing standards for students, and the larger issue of addressing housing shortages. Munger Hall has been criticized for its extremely high density (nearly 4,500 students in 1.68 million square feet), lack of natural light (94% of the rooms would not have windows), and jarring lack of harmony with its surroundings. In addition it presents health and safety concerns, and would have a potentially disastrous environmental impact in an area that suffers from recurring drought. The discussion has led to a reevaluation of what is desirable, acceptable, and economical for student housing.

In light of this timely discussion, we’ve selected images of recently-built dormitories as well as some early 20th- and late 19th-century structures. Each has considered density, light, circulation, comfort and aesthetics in very different ways. Thank you, as always, to our SAHARA contributors.

To see more SAHARA content:
To learn more about contributing, visit:   
SAHARA access is one of the many benefits of SAH membership. Join today

Simmons Hall, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Steven Holl and Perry, Dean, Rogers & Partners, Simmons Hall, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, 1999–2002. Photograph by Jeffrey Klee, 2010. Despite the impression of large external mass, Simmons Hall houses fewer than 400 people, but provides extensive open, curving hallways and spaces for recreation, creativity, and socializing.


Graduate House, University of Toronto
Thom Mayne and Morphosis, Graduate House, University of Toronto, Ontario, 1997–2000. Photograph by Dell Upton, 2001. This addition to the urban campus added 464 beds and street level retail space.


 Dar al Islam
Hassan Fathy, Dar al Islam, Abiquiu, New Mexico, 1980. Photograph by Leah Theis, 2012. These yurt dormitories house retreat and school attendees.


Renner Hall and A.A. Branch Hall, Tougaloo College
Gunnar Birkerts & Associates, Renner Hall and A.A. Branch Hall, Tougaloo College, Jackson, Mississippi, 1971–73. Photograph by G.E. Kidder Smith. The Brutalist library is in the foreground of this view of the dormitories.


Indian Institute of Management
Louis Kahn, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmadabad, India, 1962–74. Photograph by Peter Serenyi. Kahn’s IIM dormitories were scheduled for demolition due to structural degradation, but earlier this year got a reprieve.


 Florey Building, Queen’s College
James Frazer Stirling, Florey Building, Queen’s College, Oxford University, England, 1966. Photograph by Richard Longstreth. Stirling clearly understood the value of natural light in this design.


Golconde Dormitory
Antonin Raymond and George Nakashima, Golconde Dormitory, Pondicherry, India, 1937–45. Photograph by Johan Lagae, 2012. Considered the first Modernist building and first reinforced concrete structure in India, Golconde was built for the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.


Bauhaus, Dessau
Walter Gropius, Bauhaus, Dessau, Germany, 1925–26. Photograph by J. Fraser Muirhead. Each of the 28 studio apartments in the main building has a balcony.


Sage Hall, Tuskegee University
Robert Taylor, Sage Hall, Tuskegee University, Alabama, 1922–26. Photograph by Dell Upton, 1997. Sage Hall was built as a boys’ dormitory, but was renovated in 1991 and is now a girls’ dorm. Robert Taylor was the first Black graduate of MIT.


Grey Nuns Building, Concordia University
Joseph Venne and others, Grey Nuns Building, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, 1872–1878. Photograph by Dell Upton, 1995. Originally built as a residence for the Grey Nuns, it has served as a dormitory for Concordia University since 2007, housing 598 undergraduates.


Founded in 1940, the Society of Architectural Historians is an international nonprofit membership organization that promotes the study, interpretation and conservation of architecture, design, landscapes and urbanism worldwide. SAH serves a network of local, national and international institutions and individuals who, by profession or interest, focus on the built environment and its role in shaping contemporary life. SAH promotes meaningful public engagement with the history of the built environment through advocacy efforts, print and online publications, and local, national and international programs.

SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
1365 N. Astor Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610