URS Building, including the paved surface of Chancellors Way and raised edges of the ornamental pool, University of Reading


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
University Of Reading, Whiteknights, Reading, RG6 6UR


© Crown Copyright and database right 2021. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2021. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1435127.pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 28-Feb-2021 at 16:44:50.


Statutory Address:
University Of Reading, Whiteknights, Reading, RG6 6UR

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

Wokingham (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:


University faculty building, 1970-72, by Howell, Killick, Partridge and Amis, built for the Faculty of Urban and Regional Studies, including the College of Estate Management (CEM).

Reasons for Designation

The URS Building at Reading University, 1970-72 by HKPA, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: the expressive use of structure to enclose space, which references traditional Japanese construction, and the playful exaggeration of the post and lintel joints, give the building drama, wit and virtuosity; * Planning interest: the practical, cost efficient, central corridor plan is innovatively re-imagined to bring natural light into the core of the building and to create a linear plan of dynamic cross section; * Architects: the building comes towards the end of HKPA’s impressive sequence of educational buildings; expressing elements of this important practice’s architectural philosophy while being an idiosyncratic and creative response to its brief.


The post-war expansion of higher education was one of the greatest achievements of the period, with universities growing greatly in number and in size. While university building of the 1950s got off to an unadventurous start, the turn towards Modernism swiftly followed, and from the late part of the decade onwards, universities became the country’s most ambitious architectural patrons. Some of the resultant buildings have come to be regarded as the best works of the period’s most eminent architects, and a number are listed.

Reading University’s post-war expansion was facilitated by its acquisition of Whiteknights Park, a 300 acre estate on the edge of town, with the first new building opening on the site in 1957. The size of the site enabled the university to attract other academic bodies, and the commission for a new building to house the Faculty of Urban and Regional Studies (URS) was prompted by the absorption of the College of Estate Management into the faculty in June 1967. The College of Estate Management (CEM) was founded in Kensington in 1919 by the Auctioneers’ and Estate Agents’ Institute to train land surveyors and estate managers in the ‘profession of the land’. By 1965 it was looking for greater control over its degree courses than was possible under the aegis of the University of London and hence, after extended negotiations, it joined the faculty at Reading (although continues to remain a legally separate institution).

The architectural practice of Howell Killick Partridge and Amis (HKPA) were commissioned to design the new faculty building, with Stanley Amis the partner in charge (not John Partridge, as sometimes mistakenly attributed). The engineering was devised with the practice’s regular collaborator, Frank Newby, of Felix Samuely and Partners. Construction started in November 1970, and the building was occupied in September 1972. The University offered the land, but the University Grants Committee (which from the early 1950s was providing almost 65 per cent of funding for university expansion) was unable to include the project in its 1967-72 quinquennial programme. The building’s cost of £667,000 (equivalent to £8.5m in 2016) was met instead through the CEM’s reserves, a fundraising appeal, and the sale of its buildings in Kensington. The building was ceremonially handed over from the CEM to the University in September 1973. HKPA also designed Wells Hall, a hall of residence for students of the Faculty.

The URS Building is one of the last major university works by HKPA. William Howell (1922-74), John Killick (1924-71), John Partridge (1924–) and Stanley Amis (1924–) met in 1950 at the architect’s department of the London County Council, where they designed the acclaimed Roehampton Lane estate (now known as Alton West, parts of which are listed at Grade II and II*). Several private commissions and competition entries – notably their second-placed entry of 1959 for Churchill College, Cambridge - launched them into practice.

HKPA went on to develop a new architectural idiom for the expanding higher education sector. At Cambridge, Howell designed the University Centre (listed Grade II), and new buildings for Downing, Darwin and Sidney Sussex Colleges. At Oxford, their Wolfson and Rayne Buildings for St Anne’s College and the Hilda Besse Building at St Antony’s College (all listed at Grade II) were overseen by John Partridge. In addition the firm designed Acland Burghley School for the London County Council (Grade II), the Ashley and Strathcona Buildings at Birmingham University (both Grade II) and the Mathematicians’ Houses at Warwick University (Grade II*). Aside from the educational commissions, HKPA’s workload ranged from private and public housing to court houses and theatres, the latter including the Young Vic, London; Christ’s Hospital Arts Centre, Sussex (Grade II*); and the Albany, Deptford.


University faculty building, 1970-72, by Howell, Killick, Partridge and Amis, built for the Faculty of Urban and Regional Studies, including the College of Estate Management (CEM).

MATERIALS: the building is composed of an exposed reinforced concrete frame finished in ochre-coloured cement; the frame is infilled with pre-cast concrete cladding panels of brown Thames Valley aggregate, aluminium panels, and aluminium windows. The low-pitched roofs are also covered with aluminium sheet.

PLAN: the building forms the south side of an open space enclosed by Whiteknights House to the west, the Humanities & Social Studies Faculty to the north and the Library to the east. The building has a long, narrow, footprint, which runs broadly east to west; the north elevation faces out onto the open space. The building has four floors, plus a basement and a partial fifth floor with plant room over. The plan is centred on a 120m long top-lit spine, which forms the principal internal circulation space. Rooms, lecture theatres and teaching spaces, project irregularly out from the spine, and to the north they project over a wide double-height, brick-paved, pedestrian walkway known as Chancellor's Way.

The circulation spine takes the form of a double corridor sandwiching a central core of staircases, lobbies, lifts and light-wells. Lecture theatres and tutors' rooms are at first floor level with seminar and teaching rooms above. The ground floor is reserved for the printing and administration of the CEM’s postal courses. With the exception of a small ground-floor infill extension, alterations are limited to minor internal rearrangements of partitions, to subdivide, or open up, rooms in discrete areas of the building.

EXTERIOR: the building’s elevations are formed of irregular projections, braking up its length with vertical and horizontal cut-aways to bring daylight into the corridors. The exposed structural frame creates a strong bay rhythm, and the joints of post and beam are exaggeratedly-expressed, with the fork-ended beams resting on, or supporting, the shouldered ends of the columns, giving a playful emphasis to the building's rational construction.

The structure is made to work hard, with beams post-tensioned for large spans and cantilevers. The most dramatic projection is to the north, over Chancellor’s Way; the supporting structural columns forming a colonnade. The principal entrances, each of which gives access to a stair, are arranged along the north elevation, but the heavy modelling is a feature of both north and south elevations. The two end elevations to east and west give the appearance that the building has been sliced like a stick of rock, to reveal the cross-section of the structure. At both ends there are also projections – to the east a service tower, and to the west the central spine advances forward at first, second and third floor, projecting out over a square, ornamental, pool.

The building’s roofs are visible as shallow, mono-pitch gable ends from the east and west ends; built-in box gutters terminate in projecting spouts to carry water away from the building. The proportions and glazing pattern of the windows vary depending on the rooms they serve, and some are more architecturally expressed, forming shallow oriels.

Chancellor’s Way, which runs along the north elevation of the building, is paved with brown brick paviours. The route steps up near the building, forming a continuous shallow podium along its length. To the west, the paviours wrap round to side of the building and form a raised edge to the square pool beneath the projecting end of the building.

The building’s expressed structure is a typical feature of HKPA’s work, recalling their interest in oriental timber construction. However here, the trabeated post-and-lintel aesthetic is translated to reinforced concrete and amplified to a monumental scale, creating a distinctive and extrovert aesthetic. It is a didactic building, showing how structural loads are transmitted; this was appropriate given that Construction Management was amongst the courses taught here.

INTERIOR: the building’s structure is exposed internally as it is externally, with the beams tapering in depth and forking as the engineering requires. The top-lit stairwells and light-wells are enclosed in timber and glass screens, with fin-like vertical mullions, allowing light through the building, and creating a sense of structural transparency. The timber detailing is in HKPA’s consistent style and redolent of simple Japanese-inspired design. The wells have pitched glass lanterns over them, with the exception of one well, which is open to the sky. The dog-leg stairs are self-supporting, with balustrades of painted tubular steel and timber panel. Internal walls are of painted concrete block, and doors are mainly flush-panel or have two glazed panels, although a number are later replacements.

The two first-floor raked lecture theatres are double-height spaces, as is the printing room on the ground floor. Timber and glass screens, matching those used elsewhere, create a partition between the printing room and the offices at first and second floors, again, allowing light and views to travel through the space.

Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that internal, non-structural, party walls between adjacent rooms are not of special architectural or historic interest.


Books and journals
Cantacuzino, S, Howell Killick Partridge and Amis, (1981), pp. 96
Franklin, Geraint, Howell, Killick, Partridge & Amis, (2017)
Harwood, Elain, Space, Hope and Brutalism, (2015), pp. 252-253
Pevsner, N, Bradley, S, Tyack, G, The Buildings of England: Berkshire, (2010), pp. 461


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

End of official listing

Your Contributions

Do you know more about this entry?

The following information has been contributed by users volunteering for our Enriching The List project. For small corrections to the List Entry please see our Minor Amendments procedure.

The information and images below are the opinion of the contributor, are not part of the official entry and do not represent the official position of Historic England. We have not checked that the contributions below are factually accurate. Please see our terms and conditions. If you wish to report an issue with a contribution or have a question please email [email protected].