Context 167 - March 2021

14 C O N T E X T 1 6 7 : M A R C H 2 0 2 1 precisely observed and recorded, and annotated using familiar Cullen terminology: close up, ter- mination, exit, secret garden and even ‘straight is the way’. Other drawings focused on Browne’s ideas for the development of three parts of the city centre. One of these was the Market Place, where his drawings show many more tower blocks than actually appeared, looming over the 700-year old space. Browne also focused on the northern end of the 18th-century promenade of New Walk, where it meets the city centre. Browne suggested a dramatic pair of curved buildings embracing a ‘sky slit’ oriented north-south to link into the ‘big city’. The buildings would embrace a piazza with trees, a water feature and cafe tables. Smigielski’s Central Area Redevelopment Plan 1995 5 showed a much more conventional set of tall buildings on a rectilinear plan. Lutz Luithlen 6 , who worked with Smigielski at the time, recalls that design staff were invited to prepare sketch ideas and that Luithlen’s submission, incorporating two curved buildings inspired by Toronto City Hall, was preferred. The idea was adopted by commercial develop- ers in 1972–73 as a 13-storey and eight-storey pair of buildings, but omitting both Browne’s colourful piazza and the glazed linking building proposed by Lutz Luithlen. The space between the buildings, oriented north-east – south-west, provided no convincing visual links with the surrounding streets. Bought off the peg by the city council in 1975, the two buildings served as the council offices for nearly 40 years before developing structural problems, leading to demolition in a spectacular controlled explosion in 2015. The subsequent redevelopment still provides an echo of Browne’s curved buildings, but this time much lower and embracing a space opening off New Walk. The gap between the buildings carries the eye westward towards the now brilliantly reimagined campus of De Montfort University. A trace of Browne’s ideas can still be discerned in NewWalk. But his ideas for the Clock Tower were even more radical and had no evident practical outcome. The Clock Tower is an archi- tectural curiosity of 1868 built on the site of the Roman and medieval East Gate. It has survived years of critical condescension to remain the geographical and emotional centre of the city. Browne’s play with ideas set the tower in the middle of a traffic roundabout with pedestrians circulating on a raised walkway around it. Buildings display illuminated signs in the manner of Piccadilly Circus.The tower would have a visual function but its role as the focus of a social space would be lost. Browne, of course, was working at a time when through traffic was a fact of life in all city centres. Leicester’s present pedestrian zone came together only piecemeal and over several decades up to 2007: the positive benefit from the inner ring road and its extensions. This idea did not appear to influence Smigielski. In the Redevelopment Plan the Clock Tower, retained for sentimental reasons only, is set in a rectangular space surrounded by new buildings, including a tower block.The ensemble resembles the civic square of a new town or a borrowing from nearby Coventry. The Kenneth Browne drawings are a treasure. Acutely observed and beautifully drawn, they are the product of a lively visual imagination. But they do illustrate the limitations and well as the possibilities of townscape as a predominantly visual concept. Since the 1960s a different idea of urban space has emerged. We now see urban spaces through the eyes of urban designers like Jan Gehl and of some of the authors in this issue: as the stage for the countless interactions that make a city more than a collection of buildings and streets. The context of the Clock Tower changed less radically than either Browne or Smigielski foresaw, although one side of the modern square was built in 1972 as the bulky western elevation of the Haymarket Centre. The Clock Tower now stands within the central pedestrian zone. On a December Saturday morning a band plays carols around the city’s Christmas tree, bible-wielding preachers share space with climate protestors, and teenagers wait to meet their friends as generations have done before them. It is an easy- going, engaging picture of city life. After 70 years of physical change and social transformation there is a still distant echo of WG Hoskins’ congenial vision of Leicester. The drawings are reproduced by courtesy of the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland and Leicester City Council. Scans by Colin Hyde. Michael Taylor is editorial coordinator for Context A proposal for the Clock Tower 5 Leicester Traffic Plan op cit 6 Thanks go to Lutz Luithlen and George Wilson for sharing their recollections of working with Konrad Smigielski.