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Lecture Theatre Block, Brunel University, Hillingdon

Description: Lecture Theatre Block, Brunel University

Grade: II
Date Listed: 23 June 2011
English Heritage Building ID: 1400162

OS Grid Reference: TQ0602482651
OS Grid Coordinates: 506024, 182651
Latitude/Longitude: 51.5328, -0.4728

Locality: Hillingdon
County: Greater London
Country: England
Postcode: UB8 3PH

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Listing Text


The lecture theatre block, 1965-6 by Richard Sheppard, Robson and Partners. John Heywood as project architect and Clarke Nicholls and Marcel as structural engineers. Built as part of the first phase of the new campus for Brunel University.

Reason for Listing

The lecture theatre block at Brunel University, Hillingdon, 1965-6 by Richard Sheppard, Robson and Partners is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: lecture theatre block, the concept inspired by the lecture block at UMIST, designed and built to a high standard in a distinctive, expressive manner by an architectural practice with an established pedigree of university buildings
* Plan: stacks of lecture theatres and classrooms, some internal, set round an internal corridor; north entrance and foyers beneath strongly expressed projecting lecture theatres flanked by spiral stair wells
* Material quality and effectiveness of expression: sculptural, board-marked concrete box construction between piers, contrasts with a lighter weight frame infilled with pre-cast panels and window units
* Historic interest: Brunel was one of the fastest growing and most prestigious technical colleges of the colleges of the post-war period and a flagship of the newly created Robbins universities; its early date, new location and generous funding allowed for an ambitious initial scheme; the lecture theatre block achieved early notoriety as a location in the film A Clockwork Orange


The lecture theatre block at Brunel University was built in 1965-7 to the designs of John Heywood of Richard Sheppard, Robson and Partners, master planners of the university. The practice was already established in the context of post-war universities for their designs for Churchill College, Cambridge, developed from 1959 (listed Grade II) and to which they later added the chapel in 1967, for halls of residence for Imperial College, S Kensington (1957 onwards, listed Grade II, demolished 2005) and for the School of Navigation and associated buildings at Southampton (1959-61).

Brunel was one of the fastest-growing and most prestigious technical colleges of the post-war period. It began only in 1928, as Acton Technical College, founded to serve the growing industrial areas of Park Royal and the Great West Road. Its original aim was to train teenagers and apprentices, but it shifted its focus with the influx of ex-servicemen into higher education on scholarships after the Second World War. A new building in Acton was opened in 1957 and the college separated its HND and Dip Tech courses from those to A' level and below. It rapidly gained a high reputation for these, and was with Birmingham and Salford Colleges among the first to pioneer sandwich courses, developed with local industries. The college was strong in engineering subjects and sciences, many of them allied with courses in production engineering and management. It was named Brunel College for the proximity of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Great Western Railway to its four-acre site at Woodlands.

Towards the end of 1960, discussions began between the Ministry of Education and the Middlesex Education Authority about the upgrading of Brunel to a College of Advanced Technology (CAT). The small site at Acton was judged insufficient for a CAT, which was expected to provide residential accommodation to attract students from across the country, as well as modern workshops, laboratories, lecture halls and a library. Middlesex County Council had already offered land for a hall of residence at Uxbridge Common, where it had been acquiring sites for a new college of business studies and a college of art. Instead, in November 1961 it offered the entire holding to Brunel, with 81 acres immediately available. In January 1962 the Minister of Education officially upgraded Brunel to a CAT, the only college to be formally upgraded following the initiation of the system in 1956.

In April 1962 Richard Sheppard, Robson and Partners were commissioned to prepare a development plan for the new campus. In May 1963 these first proposals were revised with the acquisition of a larger site to the west, and with the publication of the Robbins Report which proposed the upgrading of the institution to full university status with a population raised from 2,500 to 5,000 students. It was to be one of the largest engineering teaching complexes in Europe; Stillman & Eastwick-Field were appointed as associates to design the engineering centre and engineering buildings. Designed significantly ahead of the rest, Brunel University was thus a flagship of the new generation of 'Robbins' universities such as the former technical colleges at Bath and Strathclyde. The building gained early notoriety as it featured in the film, A Clockwork Orange, so distinctive was it of its time.

The lecture centre formed part of the first phase of the new campus which included the communal refectory, administration and the first of the residential blocks, and the engineering complex, the latter designed by Stillman Eastwick. The masterplan included the library which was phased to follow. The idea of placing all the lecture theatres in a single building was inspired by a lecture theatre building at UMIST (University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology) which is also a compact site, and which members of the Brunel Planning Group had visited in November 1962 (Topping (1981) 250).


MATERIALS: a reinforced concrete frame, the large north-facing lecture theatres of box construction, with board marked finishes, set between giant piers. The rest of the building is an exposed concrete frame infilled with precast concrete panels, and large areas of metal framed glazing with contrasting soffit panels.

PLAN: six large lecture theatres, designed to seat 160-200 students, and mechanically ventilated, are entered off a central first-floor concourse and gallery. Smaller teaching rooms and lecture theatres for 60-80 students are set on three main floors either side of two long corridors, laid out with internal raked lecture theatres in centre, and naturally lit and ventilated classrooms to the outside. These are reached from the concourse and the ground-floor entrance hall below it via centrally placed stairs in the south elevation and east and west elevations and spiral stairs, expressed externally in drum stair wells.

EXTERIOR: the north elevation forms an expressive centrepiece to the campus, the raked underside of the lecture theatres projecting outwards, in the manner made popular with Stirling and Gowan's Engineering Building at Leicester University. The upper flight of lecture theatres projects on giant columns and beams above the lower flight, with projection booths extending beyond. External escape stairs separate the three banks of theatres, with set-back glazed lobbies at their tops. At entrance level, which is raised on a stepped podium, the former open foyer beneath the raking projection has been enclosed behind a glass screen wall and entrance, added in 2005, which wraps round the north end of the building. The rest of the building is a symmetrical rectangular block, with a set back clerestorey to the upper floor, the teaching rooms set forward in blocks between glazed stairwells and entrances on either side. The horizontal treatment of the projecting upper floors contrasts with the verticality of the recessed and centrally-placed stair wells.

INTERIOR: the ground-floor north entrance hall has a coffered panelled precast concrete ceiling, the original quarry tiled floors are replaced; although the foyer is now extended to include part of the former external entrance, the original distinction is clearly defined. The upper concourse and gallery is similarly treated although also refurbished in 2005. Centrally-placed stairs on the south elevation, and long side elevations and in projecting drum stair wells have integral moulded steps and skirtings; the spiral stairs are, in places, free-standing and detached from the stair well; steel balustrades, some have heavy timber handrails, some are now supplemented by additional safety rails. The foyers and most lecture theatres have been refurbished. Some of the outward facing rooms retain coffered precast concrete ceilings; some have original door frames with a vertical glazed side panel, flush panel doors and door furniture.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.