Explained: Coleman's castle

BY JAKE HOLMES

Published April 5, 2007

After Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality held a sit-in at the Fleming Administration Building on Tuesday that led police to arrest 12 students, administrators might wish that the rumors that the building was designed to be riot-proof were true.

Angela Cesere
Greek life supporters write on the wall of the Fleming Administration Building in March 2004. Hundreds of students protested funding cuts for student services in front of the Fleming Building that month. (FILE PHOTO BY SHUBRA OHRI/Daily)

Too bad the building is more function than fortress.

For almost 40 years, students have traded stories about the building's fortress-like exterior.

According to myth, the building was designed in the 1960s so administrators could lock themselves inside, protected from rioting students outside. The story is often retold to prospective students on campus tours.

But it's a myth - Fleming was not built to be riot-proof.

Although the building was completed in 1968 as protests became increasingly common on campus and has just a few small windows, it's hardly a fortress, University Planning Assistant Julia Truettner said.

Former University Planner Fred Mayer, who began working at the University in 1966, said rumors about the Fleming Building's strength started soon after he arrived because of ongoing Vietnam War protests.

But the building's designer, Alden Dow, began drawing up plans for it in the early 1960s - before student activism would have made safety a concern.

Dow was offended by myths about the security of the building, Truettner said. He designed the building the way he did because he hoped to make the building a showcase of the "composed order" style, she said.

Buildings designed using the composed order style are typically tall and have understated entrances to get a large amount of floor space out of a small footprint. The Ann Arbor City Hall was built in the same style.

Until the Fleming Administration Building was completed in 1968, administrators used offices in the LSA Building.

At the time, the LSA Building didn't have air conditioning, and its large windows allowed too much heat to enter during the summer and escape during the winter, Truettner said. University administrators wanted a building that was more energy efficient, she said.

The ideal design would have been a long, low building with small windows, but the lack of space between the Michigan Union and the Student Activities Building meant Dow had to make the building taller.

JAKE HOLMES