Over a decade ago, the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) set an ambitious goal with its 2010 Long Range Development Plan to increase the number of enrolled students from 20,000 to 25,000 by 2025. The plan, developed in collaboration with the housing-strapped cities of Goleta and Santa Barbara along with Santa Barbara County and myriad citizen groups, pledged to construct additional on-campus residences to absorb the entirety of that upswell in numbers. To that effect, UCSB recently announced that the Los Angeles offices of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and Mithun will lead the design and construction of multiple on-campus student residences projected to add 3,500 beds over two phases. The project will prove critical to addressing the university’s goal to house half of its student population on campus.

This housing follows the construction of the San Joaquin Villages, designed by Kevin Daly Architects and Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects, and Tenaya Towers, designed by SOM, which both opened in 2017 to accommodate more than 1,000 students. And then there was the much-maligned 2021 proposal by now-deceased billionaire Charlie Munger to build a 4,500-room, many of them windowless, mega-dorm on campus; those plans were scrapped last year.

The first phase of the initiative, dubbed San Benito, is expected to break ground in 2025, pending approval by the University of California Board of Regents this May. It will consist of seven residence halls, each rising six-to-eight stories, located in the northwest corner of the campus, astride UCSB’s football and baseballs stadiums. When completed, the new buildings will accommodate 2,140 students by the fall 2027 semester if the timeline holds. The approximately five-acre site repurposes grounds formerly used for facilities management, and the design team will navigate its 20-foot variance in grade by inserting a two-story plinth with a cascading promenade to house program and facilitate student circulation, all while affording views of the nearby Santa Ynez Mountains.

In a statement, Mithun principal Damian Possidente noted that “San Benito will provide critically needed affordable, apartment-style housing and an amenity-rich program with a healthy market at the heart—creating a vibrant residential community on a distinctive part of the UCSB campus.”

The residence halls will be arranged on an east-west axis to reduce solar heat gain and to take advantage of prevailing ocean-borne winds for passive cooling. The massing and positioning of the halls will be pinched at several points to further facilitate airflow. As SOM design partner Olin McKenzie told RECORD, this strategy will also create “parenthetical courtyards” that encourage student gathering and activities. These public-facing features of the new complex will be supplemented by landscaping and paths that weave into the wetlands of the nearby Goleta Slough State Marine Conservation Area.

The second phase of the SOM and Mithun collaboration will include an approximately 1,400-bed residence hall on the southeast end of the UCSB campus. That undertaking is slated to enter the planning and concept design phase this summer, and, if all goes well, open by 2029.