Designed in 1959 by James Stirling and James Gowan, the Engineering Building at Leicester is widely regarded as one of the most architecturally important buildings of its era.
Engineering Building in Leicester Technical Information
- Architects: James Stirling & James Gowan
- Location: Leicester University, Leicester, England
- Client: University of Leicester
- Topics: Brick, Glass, Educational Architecture, Universities
- Style: Postmodernism
- Project Year: 1959-1963
- Drawings and Photographs: © Canadian Centre for Architecture, © StoryOfLeicester.info
The work of James Stirling is permeated by a mannerist taste for distortion and paradox, especially at the Engineering School in Leicester (1960-3), where the diversity of forms, expressive of the internal functions of the building, is a pretext for the liveliest interplay of masses.
– Mitchell Beazley1
Text by the University of Leicester
In 1957 Leicester gained its Royal Charter and became Leicester University. Plans for new campus buildings included an engineering building on a site near Victoria Park. The commission was given to architects James Stirling and James Gowan plus engineer Frank Newby.
Built between 1959-63, the new building looked different from anything else planned for the campus. The engineers wanted a water tank for the ground floor hydraulics laboratory so, to create the required pressure, the tank was placed on top of the tower. Lecture rooms stick out at right angles, and the tower also houses laboratories and offices.
The ground floor buildings have a distinctive angled roof to allow in north light – similar to factory roofs – and contain workshops and laboratories. The roof design is unique, and there are two types of glass in the roof: translucent ply-glass with an inner layer of fiberglass and opaque glass coated with aluminum. The distinction between the two only becomes noticeable at night when the building is illuminated.
The Engineering Building is a design of such radical and uncompromising power that it has divided critics dramatically from its first unveiling in 1963.
– Thomas Pearson
The building comprises a tower and adjacent workshops and laboratories, with the glass room sitting on triangular struts running at 45 degrees to the building’s face.
The exterior of the building is a bold combination of red brick masonry and full height glazing. The workshops have an industrial toughness, with saw-tooth factory glazing cutting across its roof at an acute angle.
Atop the two cantilevered lecture theaters sit two joined towers containing labs and offices, their design inspired by an aircraft carrier’s superstructure. The rippling ‘waves’ of the two large glass roofs, angled at 45 degrees to the towers, face north to provide illumination without direct sunlight (which could affect delicate instruments).
The building’s walls are constructed of red Accrington brick and red Dutch tiles. Atop the taller tower is a water tank to provide hydraulic pressure, while the corner of the shorter tower is cambered to avoid overhanging part of Victoria Park. Within the ground floor workshop space, which is partitionable to provide flexibility, the floor is a series of concrete slabs that can be removed to provide machinery foundations as required.
Engineering Building Floor Plans
Engineering Building Image Gallery
About James Stirling
James Stirling (1926-1992) is considered by many as the premier architect of his generation, an unparalleled innovator in postwar international architecture. Stirling was educated at the University of Liverpool School of Architecture and began his own practice in partnership with James Gowan in London in 1956.
James Stirling was awarded the Alvar Aalto Medal in 1977, the RIBA Gold Medal in 1980, and the Pritzker Prize in 1981. In addition to teaching in Europe, he served as the Charles Davenport Professor at Yale University from 1967.
- Mitchell Beazley. The World Atlas of Architecture. p389.