The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

University of Leicester Engineering Building, Photo © Elain Harwood

40 Buildings Saved

6. University of Leicester Engineering Building

Status: Listed Grade II*
Architect: James Stirling & James Gowan
Owners: University of Leicester
Location: University Road, Leicester


An internationally acclaimed project, designed by British architects James Stirling and James Gowan (1959-63). Controversial at the time, it represented a new and more expressive phase of Modern architecture. Atop the two cantilevered lecture theatres sit two joined towers containing labs and offices, their design inspired by the superstructure of an aircraft carrier. The rippling ‘waves’ of the two large glass roofs on the lower workshop building were a standard practical device made poetic by careful detailing. The walls are clad in bright red Accrington brick and red Dutch tiles. Atop the taller tower is a water tank to provide hydraulic pressure. Completed in 1963, the year Stirling and Gowan parted in a professional capacity,  it was granted a Grade II* listing in 1993.


The workshop roof started to suffer from water ingress and aluminium corrosion from around 2007. After expressing its concerns over proposals to raise the height of the whole workshop block, and highlighting the need for a Conservation Management Plan, the C20 Society became part of a panel, along with Historic England and representatives from the University and the local authority, to discuss the building’s future. In 2009, C20 held a conference ‘Stirling’s Red Buildings’ in the Engineering Building including as speakers many of Stirling’s former colleagues. This engaged the interest of the Vice-Chancellor who attended the event.


New consultants were employed, and major preservation works took place from 2015 to 2017 with the distinctive sculptural roof structure and façade being replaced and the building’s services refurbished and upgraded.  C20 along with Historic England were consulted throughout this process.

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