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Visit to College Court

What a delight this place is; it enhances the area and provides a fine asset for the University. As a conference centre it must ensure more than first-class accommodation for visitors; it must bring a lasting experience of good design and quality construction.
Completed in 1960 as a residence for female students and known as College Hall, it was the work of architects Leslie Martin and Trevor Dannatt, principally the latter, who also designed Vaughn College/Jewry Wall Museum. The two men were to go on to design Harvey Court, Gonville and Caius, Cambridge. (ADG visit 2012) And both architects had been with the London County Council in the post-war years; surely the most creative and influential group of architects ever to come together.
College Hall Leicester became vacant about ten years ago. It had then been for some years accommodating both men and women but it could no longer meet the standards students expected. Subsequently, selling for conversion to private apartments came to be considered but the buildings had been listed (Grade II) in 1993 and their architectural merits had to be retained. With the University encountering difficulties in establishing a conference centre on other sites in its ownership attention turned to College Hall.


Associated Architects were appointed for the conversion and adaptation. This was a firm which had long demonstrated its talent for high standards in work for Leicester University and for others elsewhere. We can now readily see that the choice was a happy one for the University and for the City. Before seeking listed building consent the architects took their proposals to Sir Trevor Dannatt, now past his 90th year, to ensure that the proposals were sensitive to the original design; he liked their work.
Principally, the conversion involved:- breaking out internal walls and reducing student rooms by about one-third for the provision 123 en-suite bedrooms; the creation of meeting/conference rooms of varied-and variable- size; making high standard dining and catering facilities; laying out attractive landscaped grounds and creating agreeable courtyards harmonising with the design and purpose of the buildings. Not least, in all this the buildings have been brought to a high level of energy efficiency (Rating B).
Our Group was welcomed by Steve Crawford, the manager of College Court, who gave us an introduction to the history of the conversion and told us how the centre now operates. Three assistants were available to take us round in so many groups. We saw a lot and were able to make the most thorough inspection of some rooms, taking in furniture and fittings and sampling views from balconies. It was soon evident that with ‘modernisation’ little had been lost of the original character of the buildings and, here and there, some of their characteristics, while no longer needed, had been nicely retained as reminders of the past; for example the fireplace openings designed originally for ‘Baxi’ fittings.


The visit to College Court, to see the way it has been changed, was particularly felicitous for three members of our Group. Diana, who found a great deal to admire about the conversion, had visited the former hall often in the days when her god-daughter was resident there as a student. And, similarly, it was a pleasure for Eileen and Raymond to return to the building where they had their wedding reception in early 1962. (Maybe the first public use of the building)
We enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the large dining room and concluded a rewarding and pleasant morning’s visit.

‘College Court is a wonderful example of a listed building carefully transformed for a new use. Thoughtful and sensitive interventions ensure the elegance and charm of the ensemble continue in its new life.’
RIBA Award Judges, 2014

Members of ADG who might wish to see more on the building will find the web-site of Associated Architects worth visiting. Also on this site, computer views may be found of the University’s medical teaching block now under construction at the corner of University Road and Lancaster Road. Orientation might not be easy for the viewer. The ‘green wall’ to be seen on some pictures will be the side of the new building which will face Regent College.                                                                                                                                                        


Visit to Hastings House: Stoughton




Architecture of quality is the product of both an imaginative architect and client.  The dialogue and chemistry between these in the evolution of the Design Brief is fundamental. It has been particularly interesting and stimulating to experience this outcome in our visits to the Purdy and Hastings houses both of which exemplify this quality. Kanti Chhapi’s characteristic internal spatial design linking house and garden at two levels, operates successfully in both.

Our large group was divided into two.  The owner, Sue Hastings, showed us round the interior describing how the house could be physically divided into two separate dwellings.  Kanti, the architect, showed us round the garden and discussed the external design.

The Site:        
The footprint of the new house was virtually limited to the   original one which was demolished.  There were tight limits imposed by the Planners, combined with the need to retain a superb range of large trees.  However, these factors were fully optimised in the overall design.

External Design:    
Kanti describes the image as ‘Modern Vernacular’ – the use of traditional materials, rendered brickwork, large cedar horizontal panels, and accented blue bricks.  Volumetrically, it expressed the functions of the house – the top-lit dining room with its dominant central window, the pitched slate roof ‘split’ on the apex to reflect the two sections of the house. Combined with the roof is the hot water panel and air ventilating extract.  These reflected the renewable energy approach.

All the major rooms are on a generous scale.  The dining room and kitchen are open-plan.
The dining room area has angled glazed walls, and a sloping glass roof.  The primary wall includes a low cill with a grille controlling air stack movement. Sue’s husband, Adrian, researched in detail, renewable energy (RE) requirements, and made an important long-term contribution.  The house was classified NZEB:A.

“God is in the Details”, said Mies, and that was one of the enriching factors in the interiors.
An example:  the doors dividing the two major spaces were purpose made and beautifully panelled with hidden openings. All the internal doors were solid-core plain panelled.  Throughout the house, the walls were painted white – a perfect back-cloth for works of art, including large monochrome photographs.

As we walked out, a friend nudged me and said “what a beautiful house – I would love to live there”.


Another View Leicester

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