The development of the east wing of the Percy Gee Building completes its transformation, retains embodied carbon and provides an appropriate facade to the newly formed Fielding Johnson Square. The project was a finalist in the AJ Retrofit Awards and Procon Leicestershire Building of the Year Awards.
The building was originally designed by T Shirley Worthington and opened by the Queen as the University’s central social facility in 1958, and was a U-shaped building sitting on a steep slope. Shepheard Epstein Hunter completed a major transformation project in 2011, which roofed over and enclosed the courtyard at the centre of the ‘U’ shape to create a new large atrium space, which has become known as ‘the campus living room’ whilst also addressing level, accessibility and circulation issues, (over 20 separate levels and no lifts). However that project did not include the east wing.
The original east wing’s scale no longer provided an appropriate context for the recently developed (2016) Fielding Johnson Square at the heart of the University campus. The new East Wing extension retains much of the original two storey brick building and encloses it within a four storey glazed box. The increased scale of the new East Wing gives prominence to the Percy Gee Building at the western edge of the square and recognises its status as a student hub building vital to university life. The enlarged footprint accommodates the campus main food court, providing students and staff with a choice of cuisines and social dining options; together with student services, IT hub and flexible teaching and learning spaces. The internal circulation now provides a direct connection from University Road, through the Percy Gee Building and its new East Wing directly into the heart of the campus and Fielding Johnson Square.
The gradual expansion of the campus site over the last 100 years had not followed a consistent masterplan, resulting in a complex of buildings without a strong relationship to each other and a public realm dominated by vehicular roads and car parks. In order to improve the public spaces and pedestrian links around the campus, the car park to the east of the Percy Gee Building was redeveloped into a public space, now named Fielding Johnson Square, completed in 2016. The square provided an opportunity to improve the public face of the Percy Gee Building and its relationship to the other campus buildings around the square. The East Wing project set out to provide a building of an appropriate scale to complete and enclose the square.
The glazed facade is protected from solar gain by giant suspended fins which still allow a visual relationship between occupants of the building, the listed Engineering Building by Stirling & Gowan and Fielding Johnson Square.
Unlike other buildings around the site, the new building has an active facade with social spaces on the ground floor and overlooking the square. Retained existing walls and new staircases can be viewed from the exterior of the building, particularly after dusk. The variation in scale of the giant fins gives emphasis to the main entrance area. The grander scale fins extend over the entrance span, a width which relates to that of the glazed atrium of the west wing to which it aligns, emphasising the central axis though the building. The relationship between the East Wing and the Square provides the University with high quality public realm that supports the student facilities within the East Wing; students can spill out into the space to sit, meet or eat.
The connection provided safe space for student services during the pandemic, with for example, the Freshers Fair taking place in the East Wing and the Square. The scheme was also developed as an enabling project to release other areas of the university estate for redevelopment as part of the Estate Capital Strategy.
The University describes the Percy Gee building as ‘...a great place to meet, work and relax. A new spacious food court offers a diverse, high quality choice in food and drink as well as the relocation of our Student Services Centre...We’ve created flexible, multi-use areas all in one space that you can take advantage of throughout your time at Leicester. In addition, the four-storey expansion features a new dedicated informatics lab, a high-tech media centre and a performance studio...we are proud that over 60 years later the Percy Gee Building remains at the centre of our community.’ The building is named after Percy Gee, one of the founder members of the Leicester University College who served on the College Council from 1924 and one of the first Honorary Graduates of the University of Leicester in 1958. Gee successively served as Treasurer, Vice-Chairman and Chairman, and financed the College personally through financial crises of the 1930s. When the College received its Royal Charter Gee became the first Pro-Chancellor.