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Engineering building among UK 'top 10 most inspiring buildings in Britain'

The Universty's highly influential Engineering building is included in a list of the 50 most inspiring buildings in Britain.

Engineering building among UK 'top 10 most inspiring buildings in Britain'

Accolade for University's iconic building

Published 05 January 2008

The University of Leicester Engineering building has been hailed as one of the top 10 most inspiring buildings in the UK.

It has been cited in a new national list of famous structures that includes Hadrian’s Wall and Stonehenge.

Designed by James Stirling and James Gowan, it has already received the distinction of a Grade 2* Listing from the Department of National Heritage in 1993. The building t was designed and built between 1959-63.

The short-lived Gowan-Stirling partnership aimed to design each building in a style that reflected its use.

Architecture critic Ellis Woodman said: “The Leicester building was their final project and reflected “the engineering style” in feats of structural bravura, such as the cantilevering of the two auditoria beyond the body of the tower. A declaration of war against the predominant culture of dour functionalism, it proved wildly influential.”

Head of Engineering at the University of Leicester Professor John Fothergill said: “The Engineering Building was the first post-Modernist building in the UK. The building goes against the grain of concrete 1960s tower blocks – it is designed to excite and to be exciting. The building comprises a tower and adjacent workshops and laboratories, with the famous glass room sitting on triangular struts running at 45 degrees to the face of the building.

“The top storey of the tower, the 11th floor, is a water tank that supplies a pressure head to the hydraulics laboratory on the ground floor via enormous pipes that run down the side of the main staircase. The design is like that of a ship. The first three floors of the tower are taken up with the two lecture theatres that stick out of the building at right angles. Floors three to six have laboratories on the southern side; it’s rumoured that the corners were mitred to prevent them overhanging Victoria Park and preventing planning permission. The fourth floor also contains a large meeting room over which the top of the tower is suspended by four thin concrete columns.

“The elegant office of the Head of the Department on the sixth floor is testimony of the input that the then Head of Department, Sir Edward Parkes, had to the design of the building. Above that there are four offices to a floor until the water tower is reached.”

Professor Fothergill added: “The large laboratories and workshops on the ground floor are starting to feel a little outdated as requirements have changed; temporary internal rooms have been incorporated and probably need some rationalisation. However, the supersonic gas feed designed into the building is still utilised and the mechanical workshop still serves well. The building then rises up to 3 floors of laboratories. These are well used. The building was designed for 200 to 300 students and now contains getting on for 500! The electrical laboratories on the 3rd floor of this block are still used for electrical power – but even this isn’t as “heavy” as was originally designed for.

“The building seems to be coping well with the changes in usage. The elegant glass roof, however, is starting to get difficult to maintain and will require extensive work at some point. It also is highly inefficient. The electrical laboratory alone requires 250kW to heat and 150kW to cool it. Before the installation of these systems, the temperature rarely exceeded 6 deg Celsius in the laboratory in the winter and could get up to 45 deg Celsius in the summer – no wonder the glass started to fall out!

Paul Goffin, Director of Estates, commented: “The Engineering building is probably one of the most famous of the 20th century and we are very proud to have such an iconic building within the campus. It doesn’t come without its own idiosyncrasies and given its listed status we have always been very careful how we have maintained and improved the building.

"We hope to improve the setting further within the next few years in accordance with the University’s new Development Framework Plan and in doing so we aim to compliment the teaching and learning and research that is undertaken within the building.”

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