Mar 26, 2019 Last Updated 1:03 PM, Mar 22, 2019

University of Leicester preserves the roof of world-renowned Engineering Building

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In 2015, the University of Leicester launched a £19.5m project to replace the roof and glazed facades of its world-famous Engineering Building. This challenging and complex project involved replacing 2500 glass panels and was finally completed in August 2017.


Designed by architect practice 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 panel systems which had 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.

The Daily Telegraph included the Engineering Building in a national list of the 50 most famous structures in the UK, including Hadrian’s Wall and Stonehenge, in 2008. Of the Gowan-Stirling partnership, they said: “The Leicester building was their final project and reflected ‘the engineering style’ in feats of structural bravura, such as the cantilevering of the two auditoria beyond the body of the tower. A declaration of war against the predominant culture of dour functionalism, it proved wildly influential.” 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-10 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 invested 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 were 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 involved replacing each of the 2500 glass panels of the innovative 45º, patent-glazed, diamond-shaped roof, designed to provide north light to the engineering research laboratories and workshops. This complex project required 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 was mounted on a bespoke scaffold to protect against the weather and to ensure work could continue throughout the year. This, and the innovative use of a tensile netting under the roofline, allowed the building to remain occupied and operational with students at all times during construction.

The project cost £19.5m, part funded by a loan from the European Investment Bank and the university’s own capital. Arup Group provided professional consultancy, facade, structural, M&E and principal designer services for the project.

Brita Sread, Director of Estates & Campus Services, said: “The university is justifiably proud of its landmark Engineering Building and our project to replace Stirling and Gowan’s ground-breaking roof demonstrated our commitment to preserving this building and its heritage for generations to come. The completed roof is the result of meticulous and technically demanding work from our staff, contractors, heritage stakeholders and partners in the city of Leicester which richly deserves to be celebrated alongside our peers.”

Simon Gorski, Lendlease’s Executive General Manager of UK Regions, said: “Replacing a world-renowned engineering structure in a 24-hour operational environment was a feat of engineering in itself and all those involved in the delivery of this iconic project should be immensely proud of their achievement.

“By working in close partnership with the university I am pleased we have been able to retain and rejuvenate the iconic design of this landmark building while preserving the original vision of the building’s designers.”


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