Conceived in 1959 by renowned architects James Stirling and James Gowan, the Engineering Building at the University of Leicester stands as a quintessential example of mid-20th-century architecture. This iconic structure is universally celebrated for its groundbreaking design, innovative use of materials, and distinctive engineering solutions, solidifying its position as one of the most architecturally significant buildings of its time.
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
Leicester Engineering Building Photographs
The Innovative and Iconic Engineering Building at Leicester University
In 1957, Leicester received its Royal Charter, officially becoming Leicester University. Plans for new campus buildings were developed, including the concept of an engineering building situated near Victoria Park. The project was commissioned to architects James Stirling and James Gowan, along with engineer Frank Newby.
Constructed between 1959 and 1963, the innovative Engineering Building stood out distinctly from the other campus structures. The design accommodated the engineers’ request for a water tank in the ground floor hydraulics laboratory by placing the tank atop the tower to generate the required pressure. The building features lecture rooms that extend at right angles, as well as laboratories and offices housed within the tower.
The ground floor structures are characterized by a uniquely angled roof designed to allow north light into the space, resembling factory roofs. Workshops and laboratories are found within these buildings. The distinct roof design incorporates two types of glass: translucent ply-glass with an inner layer of fiberglass and opaque glass coated with aluminum. The difference between the two 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’s layout includes a tower connected to adjacent workshops and laboratories, with a glass room resting on triangular struts angled at 45 degrees to the building’s façade.
The building’s exterior presents a striking blend of red brick masonry and full-height glazing. The workshops exhibit an industrial toughness, with saw-tooth factory glazing sharply angled across the roof.
Two joined towers, inspired by an aircraft carrier’s superstructure, sit atop the cantilevered lecture theaters and house labs and offices. The two large glass roofs, characterized by rippling ‘waves’ and angled at 45 degrees to the towers, face north to provide optimal lighting without direct sunlight, which could affect sensitive instruments.
The walls are built with red Accrington brick and red Dutch tiles. The taller tower is topped with a water tank for hydraulic pressure, while the shorter tower’s corner is cambered to avoid encroaching on Victoria Park. The ground floor workshop space is designed with removable concrete slabs for flexibility, allowing the installation of machinery foundations as needed.
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.
- James Stirling: Revisionary Modernist by Amanda Reeser Lawrence