UMN East Bank Campus Building Origin Stories: A True Children’s Tale

The absolutely true stories of why the buildings are shaped the way they are

Illustrator: Taylor Daniels

Illustrator: Taylor Daniels

The concept may be strange at first but think about it. Have you ever been in a weirdly shaped building on campus, or ever looked at Google Maps and thought, “What?”

We all have. We’ve all wondered why Burton Hall looks like the top side view of a dune buggy, and why the extended X-shaped portion of Ralph Rapson Hall resembles the beloved character Gumby saying something completely in character: “Whazzup?!”

Our first story begins with the Coffman Memorial Union. Every tour group we’ve all inevitably walked by or followed mentions how Coffman is the shape of a gopher. They’re wrong. Coffman is a game of Space Invaders that we’re consistently losing. While the game came out later than the building was created, nevertheless, it is clear that Coffman is in the shape of one of the alien invaders. Coffman, aka an alien invader, is bribing us … using food. It feeds us by us paying into it and provides us seats of leisure for napping.

Our next story is about Superblock. The shape of the superblock dorms is an interesting concept. Students who lived and have lived in these dorms may understand what the five-minute walk is—the walk from the furthest section of the building to the main entrance. Not many people know that coming up with the design for the buildings was struggle—a struggle similar to trying to answer an existential life crisis question at 3 in the morning on a Wednesday. Both questions can be answered in a similar way, however: making popsicle stick art.

That is what superblock is based on. Popsicle sticks.

Popsicle sticks glued together with Elmer’s glue.

The stub-shaped, half-sized wings on the buildings? It was children. They stepped on the artwork—or maybe the people pacing at 3 a.m. stepped on the model designs, creating the buildings you know and love today, but there’s no need to be picky about the details.

We didn’t even get to the story of the Vincent and Smith Halls being square-shaped apples that someone bit into (cue “aww, shucks”), but that’s a story for another time.