The ‘happy ending’ to the story of ambitious project to refurbish iconic Engineering Building

Posted by pt91 at Dec 06, 2017 12:24 PM |
University of Leicester publishes account of the challenging build from the perspective of its lead designer

Issued by University of Leicester on 6 December 2017

Download an image of the book cover at:

Download images of the completed roof (Credit: University of Leicester, photographs by Simon Kennedy):

The Herculean task of replacing the iconic roof of one the world’s most revered pieces of 20th-century architecture has been captured on the page by the lead designer of the project.

The University of Leicester has published Diamond-tipped, the story of how the ambitious refurbishment of its Engineering Building was accomplished. Written by Thomas Pearson, an architectural conservationist at Arup, it offers an unrivalled insight into the Grade II* listed building, completed in 1963 to designs by architects James Stirling and James Gowan.

Published by the University of Leicester, the new book is available to purchase at the bookshop of the Royal Institute of British Architects ( or from the University of Leicester at

The University of Leicester has invested substantially in the Engineering Building to improve its technical performance and comfort for users. The complex project took nearly two years of intricate work on site to accomplish, delivered by a consortium of partners. Overcoming the challenges of enhancing the historic building while respecting its unique appearance demanded sophisticated engineering solutions, including an entirely bespoke glazing system.

While the prospect of re-glazing a glass building might seem simple, the reality has been formidably challenging; Diamond-tipped documents the process, exploring the nuances of the conservation approach, the intricacies of the design, and the continuing resonance of the building today.

Thomas said: “The Engineering Building is famous in the architectural world, and the original design has been well documented already. I wanted to describe what happened next: the decline of the building’s health over half a century and what was done recently to fix it. It’s a fascinating story with a really happy ending.

“A project like this is a once-in-a-career opportunity. Working on a building of such international importance – and then telling its story – has been a great honour.

“I hope readers will appreciate the complexity of the building and the care we took to protect it. I also hope it helps ‘unlock’ the architecture: the Engineering Building still looks totally avant-garde and that puts a lot of people off. But like all great art there is a lot to admire once you get to know it.”

Working with a wider team including construction manager Lendlease and glazing contractor Fill Metallbau, the Arup team provided heritage consultancy, façade design, and other engineering services. The book includes sketches, technical drawings and photographs all the way through from concept design to completion, and presents Stirling & Gowan’s original design ‘warts and all’.

Brita Sread, Director of Estates and Campus Services at the University of Leicester, said: “When the University of Leicester started on the path to replace the roof of our iconic Engineering Building the enormity of the task of and enhancing and preserving Stirling and Gowan’s original vision soon became clear. The now 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 Thomas Pearson details with meticulous attention. It is a fitting tribute to those who worked on this project, as well as a fascinating insight into this once-in-a-lifetime project.”

The Daily Telegraph included the Engineering Building in a national list of the fifty most famous structures in the UK, including Hadrian’s Wall and Stonehenge, in 2008. 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 one of the 'world's best unsung buildings' by The Guardian.

Following detailed negotiations with the University, Leicester City Council, Historic England and the 20th Century Society, work began on site in 2015. The aim was that the new roof and other works would protect the distinctive architecture, including all of the different geometric profiles and forms, and extend the functionality of the building for another fifty years.


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