Remembering the UB Bubble as more than just a lot of hot air The Bubble — think along the lines of a golf dome — was a recreation facility that opened in January 1975. Images courtesy of University Archives Editor's note: This story is the first installment of "UB Then," an occasional feature highlighting people, events and other interesting elements of UB history pulled from the University Archives. A more than 31,000-square-foot inflatable building that was once part of the North Campus should be hard to forget, but memories of the UB Bubble seem vague at best for today’s campus community, except for those who used the temporary facility beginning in the mid-1970s. The Bubble — think along the lines of a golf dome — was a recreation facility that opened in January 1975.
It functioned well in that capacity, according to records in University Archives. Its legacy, however, is one of form, not function. The Bubble, despite its utility, inspired a host of unflattering nicknames, including “Sport Wart” and “Who Hatched it Hall.” A writer for the Buffalo Courier-Express called it a “plump glowing caterpillar.” There was even a “Name the Bubble contest” that never produced anything official, although “The Buffable” was cute.
A UB track coach referred to the structure as “The Air Dome” in a 1975 newspaper story, a respectable moniker that never caught on. It was always The Bubble, and its story begins with the students who populated the university’s first residence hall. In the fall of 1973, the initial wave of resident students arrived on the developing North Campus.
Their new home was the recently completed Governors Complex, the first building to open following 1968’s ceremonial groundbreaking on the nearly 1,200-acre site in Amherst. Designed by noted architect I.M. Pei, Governors’ four linked residence halls, each bearing the name of a former New York State governor, could accommodate 800 students. The suite-styled dorm and its dining halls provided students with a comfortable, modern living space, but little else — because there was nothing else. The university provided transportation between Governors and the South Campus as the North Campus took shape, adding by the end of 1974 O’Brian, Baldy and Bell halls, along with the Ellicott Complex to the list of competed buildings, with 3,000 students now living and taking classes in Amherst. But campus planners didn’t consider the need for a recreation facility as the new educational plant came to life. Aerial photos from the period show just how isolated students were from anything unrelated to their living space and their classrooms.