Becoming LSA: A History of the School of Architecture

Founding and Early Years

The Leicester School of Art was founded in 1870 and followed the National Course of Instruction dictated by the Department of Science and Art, which had a fine art focus. Architecture apprentices attended in order to improve their drawing skills.

From 1882 new Principal Joseph Harrison introduced more design focus to the syllabus which attracted an increasing number of architecture students, including Samuel Perkins Pick, Arthur Henry Hind, William Keay, Ernest Gimson and Ralph Waldo Bedingfield

Drawing of turned chairs by Ernest Gimson, 1880s
Drawing of turned chairs by Ernest Gimson, 1880s

From 1883 classes were started in building construction and from 1886 Samuel Perkins Pick returned to the School as a teacher in practical geometry. The Arts and Crafts movement influenced architecture pupils to want to learn design so that they could create holistic structures – not just the house but the furniture and decoration too. To register as architects the students would take external examinations with the Royal Institute of British Architects.

The sketchbook of Arthur Francis Bryan illustrates the teaching methods of this time as there was much emphasis on being able to draw architectural forms drawn from Classical and Gothic examples. Bryan started at the Leicester Municipal Technical and Art School in 1899 at the age of 15, already articled to an architectural practice as an apprentice. His drawings record the details of many local buildings as well as more far-flung examples such as a caryatid from the porch of the Erechtheion, Athens.

Leicester Municipal Technical and Art Schools Prospectus, 1899
Bay Window, St Peter's Street, Stamford, Drawing by Arthur Bryan

Students at War: 1940 - 1945

In 1919 the Schools of Art and Technology engaged in a restructuring exercise. Formal departments were introduced including the School of Architecture, Building and Building Crafts. This made George Nott, fresh from five years of military service, the first Head of School. Subjects taught included architectural design and history, drawing and perspective, building construction, carpentry and joinery, plumbing, mathematics, brickwork and decorating.

In 1939 a student named Ken Carver left the LSA to join the Royal Air Force to become a fighter pilot, flying Mosquito bomber planes as squadron leader. He was forced to return to Leicester in 1944 after being shot down and fellow students remember his severely burned face. Frank Chippindale, the Head of School during the war period, tried hard to enable returning students to settle back into education. Some were allowed to restart the course in the 3rd or 4th year, for example.

Portrait of George Nott, Head of School of Architecture 1919-1939
Frank Chippindale, Head of School of Architecture, 1939-1952

Dennis Berry joined the Royal Air Force in 1941 aged 19. He contacted the LSA in 1946 and was given a place in the second year, in light of his maturity. Berry brought RAF notebooks with him when he started the course, which he filled with sketches of people and buildings, plans of buildings and also his own drawings of various artefacts.

Contact, Leicester School of Architecture Student Newsletter, Spring Issue1946
Dennis Berry standing next to a Tiger Moth in Desford, 1941
Cover of Dennis Berry's RAF notebook used whilst a student at Leicester School of Architecture, 1946
Drawing from a page of Dennis Berry's RAF notebook used whilst a student at Leicester School of Architecture, 1946

The 1948/49 year was notable for a new achievement; it was the first time that four women students had sat for their final in the same year. All were awarded diplomas and Mary Arthur was named student of the year. This not only highlights a significant step forward for the architecture profession, but also in careers opening up for women.

Mary Arthur with her drawings and model for her final thesis of a youth club and hostel

LSA and the High Tech School 1960 - 1970

The 1960s are considered to be a seminal period at the LSA when the introduction of the first computers opened new doors into the use of CAD (Computer Aided Design). By the late 1970s the School was able to boast that it was a centre of excellence for Design Technology, Environmental Design and Computer Aided Design, with tutorial material available in interactive computer packages. Hardware systems available to students included an Olivetti M24, Apple Macintosh, Textronix 4052, IBM Portable PC, Sanyo MBC-2000, BBC B and a Commodore Pet.

Leicester Polytechnic, School of Architecture Prospectus, 1970s
Students using computer software to design

It was around this time that ‘High Tech’, a development of British Modernist architecture from the late 1960s, began to fascinate the students - especially once the Stirling and Gowan Engineering Building was constructed at the centre of the University of Leicester. This building is a perfect representation of the striving for innovation that moved the architectural scene from modernist to high tech architecture. 

Stirling and Gowen Engineering Building, University of Leicester

LSA 1990 - 2011

In the late 20th century the presence of George Henderson in the school was of vital importance. He was deeply involved in the defining of the study of architecture and from 1996 to 1998 he was RIBA vice president for education. Under his guidance the school provided one of the broadest ranges of art and design provisions in the country with great opportunities for students to explore cross-disciplinary collaboration. 

Student showcasing work in prospectus, 1990s
LSA Yearbook, 2000

A few years later the LSA was on the path toward an esteemed reputation. A milestone in this path was 2011 when the school managed to gain international recognition, helped by student Christopher Christophi - winner of the Serjeant Award with designs for an ''Ecological Research & Macro Algae Monitoring Facility''.

Chistophi’s project was in reaction to recent pressures facing the Venetian Lagoon, specifically focusing on the increasing threat of invasive algae growth and the rising issues regarding the welfare of the lagoon, due to the nearing completion of the Lagoons MOSE flood gates.

Ecological Research & Macro Algae Monitoring Facility, architectural concept drawing, Christopher Chrisophi, 2011

Douglas Smith: LSA's Grand Tour

Douglas Smith is an architect, artist and author of eight books on architecture, design, painting and sketching. He is also amongst the most celebrated alumni of the LSA, having attended the Landscape Architecture graduate course from 1948 to 1952.

Driven by an insatiable love for travel combined with his passion for art, Douglas has explored countless buildings and landscapes across the world - often capturing them on the spot with one of his watercolour sketchbooks in hand!

Watercolour sketch of the Grand Canal from Accademia Bridge, Iconic Architecture, 2011, ©Douglas Smith Art

One of the most memorable moments of his adventurous spirit was the ‘Grand Tour’ journey where he, along with four fellow students, travelled across Europe in the summer of 1951 in a London taxi.

On the 'Grand Tour' agenda was to see some of the fine new architecture and engineering projects throughout Europe particularly the elegant bridges designed by Robert Maillart - a Swiss civil engineer who revolutionised the use of structural reinforced concrete.

Map showing Gussie's journey on the 'Grand Tour', 1951, ©Douglas Smith Art
Watercolour sketch by Douglas Smith of Salginatobel Bridge designed by Robert Maillart, Schiers, Switzerland, 1951. ©Douglas Smith Art

The 1934 taxi, lovingly named Gussie, was purchased for £125 and took the students 2500 miles through France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria and Germany. Some of Douglas’ sketches from this exploration can be found in his newest book, Iconic Modern Architecture.

Douglas donates the money from the sales of all his books and prints to the Leicester charity for cancer research. You can also access two of his books in the DMU Kimberlin Library.

Photograph of Douglas Smith and students with 'Gussi' the 1934 London Taxi, 1951. ©Douglas Smith Art
Douglas Smith at a book signing of Iconic Modern Architecture held in New Walk Gallery, Leicester, 2011.

Bryan Avery

A quintessential English architect, Bryan Avery delights in the seemingly contradictory impulses fusing sensibility and innovation within design. From his student days he had been fascinated by the industrialisation of buildings and the potential of using new materials.

Avery studied at the Leicester School of Architecture from 1962 and in 1978 established his own practice, Avery Associates, based in London. Today, the practice performs a collection of multi-disciplinary work including product design, sustainable technology, master planning and essay writing.

Bryan has won many awards for his inventive and wide-ranging work, and was awarded the MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours in June 2015 for services to architecture.

Designs by Avery for the Channel 4 headquarters competition
Designs by Avery for the Channel 4 headquarters competition
IMAX Cinema designed by Avery at Waterloo.
Avery’s design of the Museum of the Moving Image (MOMI) brought him to national attention as an ingenious example of the British speciality 'High Tech'.

Two final year students have been conducting interviews with notable alumni, which can be viewed on the iPad to the left. This includes an interview with Avery held on March 3, 2016, an excerpt of which appears below.

Marco & Steen: Do you recall any teachers or head of schools you remember from the time you were in the school?

Bryan Avery: "...There was another chap. Jones. I can’t remember his first name but of course, not unexpectedly it was reduced to ‘Taffy!’ Taffy Jones. He set a programme, in his garden for a small pavilion...

I was very much taken by this but Mr Jones, after I got half way through the programme and I was putting a dome over the sailing club (project), and he pointed out - as only he could point out - that the toilets were rather high. He said, if you persist with this you’re going to fail!

So as a student you think, oh gosh! You know, you felt passionately about
the thing you were doing of course, but you didn’t want to fail either…

So with ill grace, I suppose I knuckled to it to see whether I could do an orthogonal scheme that might give pleasure...

That scheme more than any, curiously has influenced my work more than any. Lots of projects have stemmed out from this third year project. But none of this would have happened if Taffy Jones didn’t point out the obvious."

Third year sailing club project that Avery refers to in his interview, 1964
Photograph of Bryan Avery

LSA Today

The LSA is a contemporary design school offering the full spectrum of architectural education, with particular interests in sustainable architecture, urban regeneration and the role of clients and users in cross-disciplinary design education.

The school has a high national and international standing, gained from successes in design competitions, work placements, teaching and learning developments, research, and extensive links overseas.

Our BA programme was placed in the top 10 architecture courses in the country in the latest Sunday Times league tables.

We continually review our provision to ensure it is relevant and responds to real-world need - as part of that process we have launched a new course, the Architectural Technology BSc, which is specifically designed to meet a skills shortage identified by the industry.

Research is a key element of the LSA, with academic staff actively engaged in community and practice-based research in a range of areas such as architectural design, architectural history, theory and criticism, and the built environment in the developing world.

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