Mapping the future of University of Leicester’s iconic Engineering Building

Stirling and Gowan-designed building among ten new grants from Getty Foundation’s 2018 Keeping It Modern programme

The University of Leicester will have the opportunity to develop a long term plan to conserve the Engineering building for future generations, thanks to the support of the international Getty Foundation.

The University is to receive £85,000 from the Getty Foundation to prepare a conservation management plan that will guide the University’s maintenance and enhancement of the Stirling and Gowan-designed building for the foreseeable future. The plan will enable the University to improve the experience of those working within the building while conserving its status as an architectural icon.

It follows the completion of an ambitious two-year project to replace the roof and glazed facades of the Engineering Building last year. This involved upgrading 2,500 glass panels while preserving the intricate diamond shaped geometry of the original design. The energy performance, durability and accessibility of the glazing were all substantially improved. 

In partnership with Historic England, the 20th Century Society and Leicester City Council, the University’s engineers will work to determine how innovative technologies might assist in the Grade II* listed Engineering Building’s refurbishment, operation and conservation.  Arup will develop the Conservation Management Plan and lead the concept design and research process. 

John Pointon, Head of Programme (Major Projects) within the Estates & Campus Services Department at the University of Leicester, said: “The Engineering Building is an impressive feat of architecture but has always been a challenge to maintain and manage. The production of a comprehensive conservation management plan will enable the Asset Management team to enact changes that will improve the ongoing planned maintenance and compliance of the building. This will ensure the building continues its life as both a functional workspace and an architectural icon”.

Professor Paul Monks, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the College of Science and Engineering, said: “The Engineering Building at Leicester remains a working building delivering teaching space for students and laboratories for cutting edge research. We have recently finished a major refurbishment of the Electronic Engineering Teaching Laboratories, giving our students access to state-of-the-art learning facilities. It is an iconic piece of modern architecture that allows our engineering and science students to appreciate the limits to which design can be taken, while delivering operational space. We are grateful to the Getty Foundation for their support in getting these two functions to work together in practice.”

Thomas Pearson, Senior Designer & Conservationist at Arup, said: “After working with the University of Leicester for over six years to upgrade the Engineering Building’s roof, we are absolutely thrilled to be asked back to help prepare a plan for its future. The project is sure to be a challenge – nothing is straightforward with the architecture of Stirling and Gowan – and we are looking forward to a close collaborative process with the building’s users and other stakeholders. Safeguarding the future of the Engineering Building is the main goal: that means respecting its unique heritage values and managing change so that it can remain an effective and inspiring place to study and work.”

The Getty Foundation has  announced more than $1.7 million in architectural conservation grants dedicated to ten significant 20th century buildings as part of its Keeping It Modern initiative. The 2018 grants once again span the globe, and include the first grants awarded to buildings in Cuba, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, and Ireland, as well as well-known landmarks such as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri.

Since its inception in 2014, Keeping It Modern has supported 54 national and international conservation projects that collectively address the importance of research and planning for the preservation of modern architectural heritage.

The ten projects selected to receive funding this year include:

  • The National Schools of Art of Havana, Cuba (architects: Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti and Roberto Gottardi)
  • Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri (architect: Eero Saarinen)
  • History Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo (architects: Boris Magaš, Edo Šmidihen and Radovan Horvat)
  • Chess Palace and Alpine Club, Tbilisi, Georgia (architects: Vladimir Aleksi-Meskhishvili and Germane Gudushauri)
  • Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California (architect: Louis Kahn)
  • St. Brendan’s Community School, Birr, Ireland (architects: Peter and Mary Doyle)
  • Technische Universiteit Delft Auditorium, Delft, Netherlands (architects: Johannes van den Broek and Jaap Bakema)
  • School of Mathematics at the Università degli Studi di Roma, Rome, Italy (architect: Gio Ponti)
  • Collegi Universitari at the Università degli Studi di Urbino Carlo Bo, Urbino, Italy (architect: Giancarlo De Carlo)
  • Engineering Building at the University of Leicester, England (architects: James Stirling and James Gowan)

“As Keeping It Modern’s international network continues to grow, we have seen grantees increasingly identify themselves with the initiative and the principles it represents,” says Joan Weinstein, acting director of the Getty Foundation. “Chief among them is an emphasis on research and planning, values that have guided the Getty’s funding for decades. We believe that Keeping It Modern projects are setting a new standard.”

“The 2018 Keeping It Modern competition was remarkable for the many strong proposals we received, especially from international applicants,” says Antoine Wilmering, senior program officer for the Getty Foundation. “We have always believed that, for cultural heritage conservation, it is crucial to first understand all the issues before doing any work, and 20th century architecture is no different. After five years of funding, the project outcomes are beginning to have a collective impact as more and more stewards embrace comprehensive planning as the bedrock for responsible preservation of modern buildings.”

Keeping it Modern was developed by the Getty Foundation to complement the Getty Conservation Institute’s Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative (CMAI). Of the 54 Keeping It Modern projects to date, two buildings (including the Salk Institute) were also supported by CMAI.