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  • 2500 separate glass panels make up the workshop roof
  • The unique angled roof allows the maximum light to get into the laboratories and workshops
  • It was designated Grade 2* by the Department of National Heritage in 1993

A striking building for a royal University

In 1957 as University College, 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 and the building was completed in 1963.

“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

Form and function

Built in 1959-63, the new building looked different from anything else planned for the campus. Professor Edward Parkes took the lead in specifying the functionality of the building which led to a unique design in order to satisfy the needs of the engineers.

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 design of this roof is unique and there are two types of glass in the roof: translucent ply-glass with an inner layer of fibreglass, and opaque glass coated with aluminium. The distinction between the two only becomes noticeable at night when the building is illuminated.


gallery engineering building 5
Inside a workshop you can see how the design of the roof windows bring in the light. University of Leicester

Love it or hate it!

Students of architecture like the fact that the shape of the building reflects its use. Look at most buildings and you will see that their shape rarely gives any clue as to their function. Many people recognised the building as ground breaking and it is often said to be the first ‘Post-Modern’ building in Britain. It was listed as Grade 2* by the Department of National Heritage in 1993, and in 2008 it was chosen in a newspaper article as one of the ten most inspiring buildings in Britain.

However, at the time not everyone shared this appreciation and the Leicester Mercury newspaper reported reactions that included ‘bizarre’, ‘angry’, ‘controversial’, ‘rubbery’ and ‘man-hating’!

Refurbishment schemes in 1985 and 2011 (when each of the 2,500 workshop roof panels were replaced) will ensure this iconic building´s survival well into the future.


Roman Leicester

(47- 500) A military fort was erected, attracting traders and a growing civilian community to Leicester (known as Ratae Corieltauvorum to the Romans). The town steadily grew throughout the reign of the Romans.

Tudor & Stuart Leicester

(1500 – 1700) The wool trade flourished in Leicester with one local, a former mayor named William Wigston, making his fortune. During the English Civil War a bloody battle was fought as the forces of King Charles I laid siege to the town.

Georgian Leicester

(1700 – 1837) The knitting industry had really stared to take hold and Leicester was fast becoming the main centre of hosiery manufacture in Britain. This new prosperity was reflected throughout the town with broader, paved streets lined with elegant brick buildings and genteel residences.

Victorian Leicester

(1837 – 1901) The industrial revolution had a huge effect on Leicester resulting in the population growing from 40,000 to 212,000 during this period. Many of Leicester's most iconic buildings were erected during this time as wealthy Victorians made their mark on the town.

Edwardian Leicester

(1901 – 1910) Electric trams came to the streets of Leicester and increased literacy among the citizens led to many becoming politicised. The famous 1905 ‘March of the Unemployed to London’ left from Leicester market when 30,000 people came to witness the historic event.

Modern Leicester

(1973 – present day) Industry was still thriving in the city during the 1970s, with the work opportunities attracting many immigrants from all over the world. While industry has declined in recent years, excellent transport links have made Leicester an attractive centre for many businesses. The City now has much to be proud of including its sporting achievements and the richness of its cultural heritage and diversity.

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