Securing space in the skyline: the 1960s
The Bennet campus extension in the late 1950s was the first time the university stretched into Victoria Park. The buildings of the extension were all designed to be relatively low lying out of respect for the Arch of Remembrance. However as the university grew at a pace so did the needs of its students and staff and the skyline began to change.
In 1960, College Hall – situated about a mile from campus and fit with balconies, a library, darkroom, laundry, and common room – was opened for female students.
The building was originally designed by Sir Leslie Martin and Trevor Dannatt. But in 2013, after a period of being empty, it was refurbished by Associated Architects to become the award-winning conference centre College Court.
“College Hall is a fine example of the architecture of the period,” says alumnus Colin Hyde, who now works here. “Its design seemed to be a cut above most of the other halls. With the Attenborough Arboretum behind it, this forms a lovely part of Leicester.”
But there were another three buildings that would come to dominate campus. By 1961, the university was keen to be seen and commissioned modernist architect Denys Lasdun to design a building that would make an impact on Leicester’s skyline. The result, the Charles Wilson Building – named after the university’s first vice-chancellor – is reminiscent of the National Theatre in London. While its completion in 1967 brought brutalist architecture to campus, its purpose was much friendlier, serving as a leisure space for staff and students.
Another of the architectural triumvirate of the period – the Engineering Building – was finished in 1963. Designed by architects James Gowan and Sir James Stirling, alongside engineer Frank Newby, it is one of the world’s most famous works of postwar architecture.
The building – inspired by aircraft carriers – houses workshops, laboratories, offices and lecture halls for engineers. It is about both form and function: for example, both its rippling glass roofs point north to avoid direct sunlight, which could affect the delicate instruments it houses.
Nor did the university stop there. Building works to the 18-storey Attenborough Tower started in 1966. Named after principal Frederick Attenborough, it played home to the arts and social sciences faculties – as well as the infamous paternoster lift.
A huge source of fun – and some trepidation – the elevator moved constantly and had open cars, with no barriers, so people simply hopped on and off to travel up and down the tower. It ran for nearly 40 years before needing to be replaced in 2017.