Martin, Leslie

Martin, Leslie
   b. 1908, Manchester
   Sir J.Leslie Martin achieved prominence as an academic as well as a practitioner. Educated at the School of Architecture, University of Manchester from 1927–30, he then lectured there from 1930 until taking up an appointment as Head of School of Architecture at the University of Hull, a post he held from 1934–9. Together with the painter Ben Nicholson and the sculptor Naum Gabo, he coedited the short-lived constructivist magazines Unit One and Circle in 1937; these were one of the means by which Continental modernism was introduced to England. Principal assistant architect to the London, Midland and Scottish Railway from 1939 until 1948, he then moved to the architecture department of the London County Council. Martin’s best-known early work, the Royal Festival Hall, London (1951, with Robert Matthew, Peter Moro and Edwin Williams) dates from this period and formed what William Curtis called ‘the last mannered fanfare’ of the modern movement. As Chief Architect of the LCC from 1953–6, Martin established what was effectively a role as ‘sponsor of design’. From 1956 Martin engaged in private practice in Cambridge and from 1959–72 he held the position of Professor and Head of the Department of Architecture, University of Cambridge. His work there includes the Harvey Court Residential Building at Gonville and Caius College (1957–62, with Colin St John Wilson) and the Stone Building at Peterhouse, Cambridge, also designed with Wilson in 1960–4. The Library Group, Oxford University (1963, with Colin St John Wilson, Patrick Hodgkinson and Douglas Lanham) comprises The Bodleian Law Library, The English Faculty Library and the Institute of Statistics Library, which are grouped together around an external public staircase and interlock to form a unified but free and picturesque composition.
   In the 1960s, the critical reaction to ‘mixed development’, comprising towers and row houses, began to emerge in the form of ‘low-rise high density’ housing. Supported by Martin and Lionel March’s research at Cambridge University into Fresnel Square and its application to housing, this solution, employed most notably by the London Borough of Camden, was sadly often as bleak as the tower blocks they sought to replace. Martin’s ideas on perimeter planning were first employed at Pollard’s Hill (1971) by the London Borough of Merton Architects Department. Martin’s influential approach to comprehensive planning, and concerns for materials and constructional techniques continue to be promoted through The Martin Centre at Cambridge.
   Further reading
    Martin, L. (1983) Buildings and Ideas 1933-83, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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