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'A Celebration of Engineering Sciences' relief mural, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds

List Entry Summary

This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

Name: 'A Celebration of Engineering Sciences' relief mural, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds

List entry Number: 1429226


Mechanical Engineering Department, University of Leeds, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds

The listed building(s) is/are shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building (save those coloured blue on the map) are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.

The building may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.


District: Leeds

District Type: Metropolitan Authority

Parish: Non Civil Parish

National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.

Grade: II

Date first listed: 19-Jan-2016

Date of most recent amendment: Not applicable to this List entry.

Asset Groupings

This list entry does not comprise part of an Asset Grouping. Asset Groupings are not part of the official record but are added later for information.

List entry Description

Summary of Building

Sculptural relief. 1963, designed by Allan Johnson, fabricated by Alec Dearnley. Glass fibre reinforced polyester (GFRP). Located on the Mechanical Engineering Department building (1957-c1963 by Lanchester & Lodge) which does not form part of this List entry.

Reasons for Designation

‘A Celebration of Engineering Sciences’ sculptural relief of 1963, designed by Allan Johnson for the Department of Mechanical Engineering building on Woodhouse Lane, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Aesthetic quality: a vigorous, bold design which, though abstract, has a theme of ‘symbols representing link mechanisms in mechanical engineering’, suggestive of the interaction of man and machine, energy and struggle, imbuing it with a rudimentary, brutal quality;

* Function: as a focal point of the whole architectural scheme, successfully connecting to the internal dynamics and meaning of the building which it adorns;

* Materials: constructed of modern, glass fibre reinforced polyester (GFRP) which mimicked the organic texture of the hand-formed clay moulds used, whilst its light weight allowed the technical production of this large-scale sculptural relief installed in a raised location;

* Historic interest: as a good example of the commissioning of public artworks in the realm of expanding universities in the post-war era as a way of introducing human interest and aesthetic pleasure into these environments.


The period after 1945 saw a shift from commemorative sculpture and architectural enrichment to the idea of public sculpture as a primarily aesthetic contribution to the public realm. Sculpture was commissioned for new housing, schools, universities and civic set pieces, with the counties of Hertfordshire, Greater London, and Leicestershire leading the way in public patronage. Thus public sculpture could be an emblem of civic renewal and social progress. By the late C20, however, patronage was more diverse and included corporate commissions and Arts Council-funded community art. The ideology of enhancing the public realm through art continued, but with divergent means and motivation.

Visual language ranged from the abstraction of Victor Pasmore and Philip King to the figurative approach of Elisabeth Frink and Peter Laszlo Peri, via those such as Lynn Chadwick and Barbara Hepworth who bridged the abstract/representational divide. The post-war decades are characterised by the exploitation of new – often industrial – materials and techniques, including new welding and casting techniques, plastics and concrete, while kinetic sculpture and ‘ready mades’ (using found objects) demonstrate an interest in composite forms.

The post-war years marked a period of expansion of universities, with the building of new universities and higher and further education colleges. Public artwork was often commissioned for these institutions. Of all Britain’s universities, Leeds grew most rapidly from 1945, with many new buildings constructed. Allan Johnson worked as an architect on a number of these, having trained in architecture at Leeds College of Art between 1925-1929, later becoming a partner at the architects’ practice of Lanchester & Lodge from 1945-1972. He was responsible for the Mechanical Engineering building, Woodhouse Lane, built 1957-c1963. The Vice-Chancellor and the architects had considered commissioning Hubert Dalwood for an artwork (Dalwood designed the relief mural formerly on Bodington Hall, University of Leeds, 1959-1962, Grade II); Quentin Bell had also suggested Reg Butler. In the end it was decided that a piece should be designed by Allan Johnson, and he made three sketches, from which one was chosen. Originally a mosaic was considered, but a sculptural relief was decided upon as being more vigorous. The large sculptural relief work was manufactured from glass fibre reinforced polyester (GFRP), built on a curve, hand-laid on a male mould formed of clay. It was fabricated by Alec Dearnley of D & A Models Ltd, Chiswick, from the design with the minimum of intervention of his own personality. Although the work is abstract, it has as a theme ‘symbols representing link mechanisms in mechanical engineering’. The motifs suggest the interaction of man and machine, the dynamics of energy and struggle, and also have a rudimentary, brutal quality.


Sculptural relief. 1963, designed by Allan Johnson, fabricated by Alec Dearnley. Glass fibre reinforced polyester (GFRP). Located on the Mechanical Engineering Department building (1957-c1963 by Lanchester & Lodge), which does not form part of this List entry.

DESCRIPTION: the curved 21.3m (70 ft) sculptural relief is attached at first-floor level to the front of a projecting lecture theatre for the Mechanical Engineering Department on Woodhouse Lane. It has a curved concrete frame into which eleven vertical panels of varying widths are set. The pierced relief panels are constructed of glass fibre reinforced polyester (GFRP) coloured grey to match the tone of the concrete with a black background set behind to emphasize the forms. Each panel has thin side frames, forming a vertical grid within the concrete frame, and contain bold sculptural abstract forms with an underlying framework of thin horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines. Though abstract, there is a clear suggestion of rudimentary link mechanisms. The surface retains the appearance of the worked clay from which the mould was made, emphasising the man-made nature of these forms.

Selected Sources


National Grid Reference: SE2937334924


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End of official listing