In April 1964, when the building was finally completed, Architectural Review ran a nine-page feature by John Jacobus. The full text is available online, including scans of the original pages featuring great photography and architectural drawings.
“The building, a low, ground-covering structure juxtaposed to a cluster of lightly balanced towers (thus directly meeting the two requirements of north light and height) is shaped in a legible way. It can be recognized for what it is from almost every angle. Its lines and masses together have a character that is both scholastic and technocratic, yet character is no more than a by-product of the building’s unrelenting devotion to its purpose, never a consideration in its own right. The form is rich in colour and surface, but its shapes are never gratuitous, and, what’s more, none of them looks fanciful, in spite of their novelty. It is a functional building that looks functional, a factory-like laboratory and classroom building which gives every appearance of being just that; a factory for study (but not, emphatically, an education factory).”
Historic England’s website includes details of the building’s ‘listed’ status as well as this functional description:
“Red engineering brick, red tile clad surfaces and patent glazing; concrete frame; flat roofs to towers. Pair of multi-storey towers, one for offices and one for research, set above a pair of lecture theatres with raking undersides, placed upon a brick podium. These are attached to a low engineering workshop complex, mostly single storeyed but with a taller section to south-west perimeter which has overhanging upper storey above recessed gallery. Octagonal chimney rises from midst of low workshop block. Complex, sculptural composition; office tower fully glazed, (present glazing not original); lower research tower with walls mostly of brick, having narrow horizontal bands of glazing canted outwards to each storey. Lecture theatres blind with tiled walls. Engineering workshops with brick walls and roofs fully glazed in a series of ridges at 45° to perimeter of block; perimeter finished in a complex rhythm of chamfers, squares and points.”
Institute of Historic Building Conservation
ne of the problems with listed buildings is how to upgrade them to meet modern safety standards without compromising their architectural qualities. A fascinating article by Melanie Smith of Carter Jonas Chartered Building Surveyors (on the website of the IHBC) explains how, without an enclosed stairwell, fire safety requirements were met by pressurising the building’s central well using fans on the tower roof and internal pipes.
“The essence of pressurisation is that (in this case), in the event of a fire, the stairway and atria are pumped with air to put them at a positive pressure in relation to the adjoining accommodation. Smoke and toxic gases from a fire in the adjoining rooms will therefore be unlikely to find their way into the escape route. Occupants of the building should then be able to make their way down the only route of escape to a place of safety without having their movement inhibited by the presence of smoke and gases. In many cases it is these toxic gases that kill and harm occupants in a fire rather than flames.”
The monthly journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects spoke with Project Manager Pete Bale from our Estates Division about working on the roof replacement project.
"With its iconic red 12-storey tower and jagged flanking roofscape of diamond-shaped skylights, the grade II*-listed University of Leicester Engineering Building is one of the UK’s most easily recognisable buildings. The factory-like construction was the first example of post modern architecture in the UK – a riposte to the postwar trend for glum functionalism – which made the reputations of James Stirling and James Gowan. Now a £19.5 million project is under way to replace the 2,500 glass panels in the roof, and the glass facade of the laboratory block, with a precision-engineered weathertight skin able to comfortably house the engineering department for another 50 years."
The seminal building … was unlike any postwar architecture elsewhere and broke the hold of Le Corbusier upon British architects.