24.11 The Universities of Leicester

The Universities of Leicester – A lecture by Arthur Lyons, Honorary Research Fellow, De Montfort University

In his lecture, Arthur Lyons highlighted buildings of both architectural interest and merit at Leicester’s universities: De Montfort University (DMU) originating from the 1870 Leicester Art School, and the University of Leicester having its foundations in the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland University College of 1921.

He showed us a building that had been made into a stamp!

Leicester stamp

Engineering Building, University of Leicester.  Modern University Buildings, 1971

This was the Engineering Building (1959-63) of the University of Leicester designed by James Stirling and James Gowan.  It is probably the most iconic building associated with Leicester itself and continues to attract national and international attention. It was the building that launched James Stirling’s career.  It has a grade II* listing.

Other building gems at the University of Leicester include work by Denys Lasdun, Leslie Martin, Colin St John Wilson and Arup Associates.

Although not of architectural significance we were shown a slide of College House, which was once the family home of a former principal, Dr Frederick Attenborough, father of Richard, David and John.  We learned that, as a boy, David volunteered at the New Walk Museum, where we later had our conference dinner, and saw a recent portrait of him, commissioned in celebration of his ninetieth birthday, by Bryan Organ.

Organ, B. 'Attenborough in Paradise' (Sir David Attenborough)' 2016.jpg

Attenborough in Paradise (Portrait of Sir David Attenborough)© Bryan Organ/Leicester Arts & Museums.

Conference base was the Vijay Patel Building, the location of architecture, art and design courses at DMU.  This building forms part of the £136 million investment by the VC, Dominic Shellard, to create a campus fit for the C21st, linking the city to the River Soar via open spaces.  Such spaces are filled with attractive plants.

Vijay Patel Building, DMU_123HR

The Vijay Patel Building – photo by Neil Hoyle: www.neilhoylephotography.com
(reproduced with permission from CPMG Director Nick Gregory)

The planting is just lovely; soft grasses and herbaceous prairie-style plants, inspired I suspect by the Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf.  Sorry, I’m going off piste here!

planting at dmu

The DMU campus encompasses much of the medieval heart of the city.  It has a castle!

planting at dmu 2

And it also has a gatehouse to the castle complex, known as the Magazine Gateway (c.1410).  Life in 2018 is a little more tranquil for this Grade 1 historic monument which until very recently was marooned amidst the inner ring road for the best part of forty years.

DMU topiary in front of Trinity Hospital founded in 1331 by Henry Plantagenet, 3rd Earl of Lancaster and Leicester.  Arthur advised that the chapel area is virtually unchanged from the C14th.

planting at dmu 3

The Hawthorn Building (1897) by Everard & Pick of Leicester, who continue to practice today as Pick Everard, originally housed the Art and Technology School.  Today this building houses the Faculty of Health & Life Sciences but is also home to two arches from the Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, founded by Henry Plantagenet in 1354.  It is believed that it was here, in this church, that Richard III’s body was displayed before being interred in the car park i.e. Grey Friars.


The Hawthorn Building (1897) – Everard & Pick

Like the University of Leicester, DMU has an iconic building for its School of Engineering.  This is the Queen’s Building (1993) designed by Short Ford Architects.  Arthur informed us that it was an example of passive design, being regarded at the time of its construction as the most eco-friendly building in the UK.


Queen’s Building (1993) – Short Ford Architects


Enigmatic origins – no one knows who built the Chancellor’s House

In his talk, Arthur Lyons vividly brought to life the wealth of buildings on Leicester’s campuses.  We saw many of these buildings later on our tour of Leicester by Colin Crosby.

Review by Susan Hill | University of Surrey

Photographs by Susan Hill and David Stacey



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