Leicester to preserve iconic engineering building

Partners and constructors pledge to maintain cultural status of University of Leicester’s historic building

The University of Leicester has launched a new £19.5million project to replace the roof and glazed facades of its world-famous Engineering Building to secure its use well into the 21st century.

Designed by architects Stirling and Gowan, the Grade II* listed building is recognised internationally as one of the most significant buildings of the 20th century and is considered an architectural icon. The building, constructed in the 1960s, has a unique glass roof and vertical glazed panels system which has now reached the end of its useful life. 

It was the first major post-modern building in Britain and the first major commission for architect James Stirling, who went on to give his name to the renowned Stirling Prize, and James Gowan who sadly passed away in June this year. 

Among its many other plaudits, it has been hailed as one of the top 10 most inspiring buildings in the UK and most recently, was listed as number one of the top ten examples that best represent England’s post-war buildings by Elain Harwood, author of England’s Post-War Listed Buildings published this month. 

The building is protected by its statutory listing so in consultation with the Local Authority, English Heritage, the Twentieth Century Society and other stakeholders the University is investing to extend the building’s functionality and iconic status for another 50 years. 

Such is the building’s historic status that the University has developed a Project Charter with its management contractor Lendlease, the other trade packages and the key stakeholders. All parties are being asked to sign a pledge showing their commitment to working in partnership on this significant development and to maintaining the historic building’s status. 

The work will involve replacing each of the 2,500 glass panels of the innovative 45-degree, patent-glazed, diamond-shaped roof, designed to provide north light to the Engineering research laboratories and workshops. 

This complex project requires demanding engineering solutions to overcome the challenges of enhancing an historic building, and contemporary technical requirements. The glazing system for the roof is a bespoke installation where no empirical industry standards can be applied. 

A fabric envelope around the building will be mounted on a bespoke scaffold to protect against the weather and to ensure work can continue throughout the year. This and the innovative use of a tensile netting under the roof line will allow the building to remain occupied and operational with students at all times during construction. 

The project will cost £19.5 million, part funded from a loan from the European Investment Bank and the University’s own capital, and is expected to be completed by the end of 2016. Arup Group Limited are providing professional consultancy, facade, structural, M&E and principal designer services for the project.

The engineering building at night

Trevor Humphreys, Director of the Estates and Facilities Management, said: “The University takes very seriously its responsibility to care for this world famous building. This highly complex, sensitive and logistically challenging project has been meticulously planned over several years.  We have engaged a highly competent consulting team and our partnership with Lendlease to replace the roof will ensure this building remains available for our Engineering students to study and learn in, as well as preserving the building for future generations.” 

Pete Bale, Project Manager, said: “This is a ‘once in a lifetime’ project with multiple stakeholders both within the University, the City of Leicester and nationally all of whom have aspirations that rightly need to be satisfied. It is very exciting that we are travelling the road that Stirling & Gowan trod all those years ago, in that we are producing the solution to an inspirational concept design, to modern performance and health & safety requirements, that has never been done before. I am confident that the replacement roof will be the best solution available, true to and as inspirational as the original.” 

Professor Helen Atkinson CBE, FREng, Head of the Department of Engineering, commented: “Stirling and Gowan designed the building around the fact that it was for an Engineering Department. For example, the height of the tower was determined by the head of water required for thermofluids and hydraulics experiments and the interior of the building very much reflects the industrial aesthetic. The design has generated much controversy and architects come from all over the world to see it. It has even featured on a postage stamp. We are proud to be educating engineers for the 21st Century in this iconic building.”


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