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Basic Biographical Details

Name: (Sir) John Leslie Martin (known as Sir Leslie Martin)
Designation: Architect
Born: 17 August 1908
Died: 28 July 2000
Bio Notes: John Leslie Martin (known as Leslie) was born on 17 August 1908 in Manchester, the son of an architect. He studied at Manchester University School of Architecture from 1923-1929, intially part-time at the School of ASrt and Architeture but full-time after 1926 at Victoria University School of Architecture, receiving various prizes in 1925 including a Soane Medal and 1929 which enabled him to travel in Italy and Spain as well as the RIBA Silver Medal in 1929. He made further trips abroad to Germany and France after 1929. He gained office experience with R B Preston (?) and R Martin. After graduation he worked as an assistant lecturer there while undertaking a doctorate, on completion of which, in 1934, he was appointed head of the new School of Architecture at Hull University – at only 26 years of age. He had been elected ARIBA in 1930, proposed by J Theo Halliday, Francis Jones and John Swarbrick. While holding the teaching post in Manchester he worked in private practice, initially designing a housing scheme in Salford in 1932 and private houses in the Manchester area.

In 1934, he married fellow architect Sadie Speight. The couple worked together on the design of Northwich Kindergarten and co-wrote a reference book on contemporary furniture, fabrics and household products, ‘The Flat Book’, published in 1938 – which he later regarded as ‘trivial’. While he was head of the Architecture School in Hull Leslie Martin also designed a number of private houses , in Cumberland and Yorkshire, several of which are now listed as well as a school in Northwich in Cheshire, farm buildings, welfare buildings, Frodingham steelworks in Lincolnshire, a youth centre in Scunthorpe and showrooms and shops in Hull.

By this time Martin had become deeply involved in the development of the latest architectural ideas. He joined the cutting-edge MARS (Modern Architectural Research) Group and, together with Ben Nicholson and Naum Gabo, edited ‘Circle’, a magazine on the avant-garde in art, literature and science. Thanks to his contacts, students at Hull were able to attend lectures by a number of architectural luminaries. At home, he and his wife surrounded themselves with works by Modernist masters such as Le Corbusier, Marcel Breuer, Alvar Aalto, Serge Chermayeff, Jørn Utzon, Henry Moore and Piet Mondrian, many or all of whom they knew personally.

During the war years Martin was appointed Chief Assistant Architect of the LMS Railway, for whom he designed emergency wartime buildings and developed a prefabricated station system as well as stations hotels histels and canteens. In 1946 he visited the |united States to study raliway and and hotel buildings.

He then secured the post of Deputy Architect to the London County Council (LCC) in 1948, leading the design team for the Royal Festival Hall, which was to be built on the South Bank of the Thames for the 1951 Festival of Britain and remains one of his best-known works. He was elected FRIBA in 1948 proposed by William H Hamlyn, Maxwell Fry and ___Yorke.

In 1953 he succeeded Robert Matthew to the post of Chief Architect, and as such he oversaw an extensive housing and school building programme which included some projects designed in-house – Alton West in Roehampton being one example – and others commissioned from practices such as Powell & Moya.

Martin left the LCC in 1956 to set up his own practice in Cambridge and to assume the post of first Professor of Architecture at the university there. He converted an old mill in Great Shelford to provide an office for his practice and a home for his family, and he worked on a number of projects for the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, London, Hull and Leicester, collaborating with Colin St John Wilson, Trevor Dannatt and Patrick Hodgkinson, among others. Meanwhile, he developed the architectural education facility of which he was head, from a small institution with only partial accreditation, to the much-esteemed and forward-thinking Centre for Land Use and Built Form Studies (now the Martin Centre for Architectural and Urban Studies). In 1967 he became involved with the development of Kuwait City. He co-opted various international architects to the scheme and the work undertaken upgraded the city as well as gaining Martin an international reputation.

The interrelationship between architectural education, research and practice was central to Martin’s thinking, and he was instrumental in the reform of architectural training. He is remembered as a generous tutor who often helped his students to gain their first commissions, but who essentially believed that it was not for one generation to tell the next what to do. As he saw it, architects “must respond to the old forms and materials and perceive their true intent in their own age, and then, remembering everything, start again. This is the essential intention of tradition.” Unafraid of controversy, he conceived many stridently Modernist buildings set within historic surroundings, and proposed the demolition of several streets of Bloomsbury in order for a new British Library to be built beside the British Museum. At the same time, he was sensitive to the quality of materials and, when so inclined, fought against popular notions of the time, such as that tall buildings make the most efficient use of limited land areas.

Notable projects outside England include the Centre for Modern Art at the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon (1978-83), the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow (1983-90) (working with William Nimmo & Partners as executive architects, though Martin remained very much as 'hands-on architect') and the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow. Martin's connection to Glasgow stretched back to the 1962 when he was consulted on possible new sites and materials after St Andrew's Halls burnt down. He acted as an informal consultant on the halls project but it did not come to fruition until the 1980s.

He was knighted in 1957, and received a number of awards including the Royal Gold Medal (1973), the Concrete Society Award (1972) and the Trustees Medal from the RIBA (1991). He held honorary degrees from the Universities of Manchester, Cambridge, Leicester and Essex and became a member of the Royal Academy in 1986.

He died on 28 July 2000, his wife having predeceased him in 1992. He was survived by a son and a daughter.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 4Manchester, EnglandPrivate19081934 
Item 2 of 4Hull, Yorkshire, EnglandBusiness1934Before 1939 
Item 3 of 4London, EnglandBusiness19391956 
Item 4 of 4Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, EnglandPrivate/business1956  

Employment and Training


The following individuals or organisations employed or trained this architect (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 3London Midland and Scottish Railway Company19391947Principal Assistant 
Item 2 of 3London County Council Architects' Department (LCC Architects' Department)19481953Depute DirectorDeputy Chief Architect, under Robert Matthew
Item 3 of 3London County Council Architects' Department (LCC Architects' Department)19531956Chief Architect 


RIBA Proposers

The following individuals proposed this architect for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 6E Maxwell Fry13 January 1948For Fellowship
Item 2 of 6James Theodore HallidayEarly 1930For Associateship
Item 3 of 6William Henry Hamlyn13 January 1948For Fellowship
Item 4 of 6Francis JonesEarly 1930For Associateship
Item 5 of 6John SwarbrickEarly 1930For Associateship
Item 6 of 6Francis Reginald Stevens Yorke13 January 1948For Fellowship (the name is difficult to read and therefore uncertain)

RIBA Proposals

This architect proposed the following individuals for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 1Peter Willis5 January 1960For Associateship

Buildings and Designs

This architect was involved with the following buildings or structures from the date specified (click on an item to view details):
 Date startedBuilding nameTown, district or villageIslandCity or countyCountryNotes
Item 1 of 41948Royal Festival Hall  LondonEnglandWith Robert Hogg Matthew, P Moro and Edwin Williams
Item 2 of 41964Lower Whitehall and Parliament Square Redevelopment  London Martin planned the areas' redevelopment
Item 3 of 41973Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama, Renfrew Street  GlasgowScotlandProposals were shown in 1975
Item 4 of 41987Glasgow Royal Concert Hall  GlasgowScotlandOriginal design; subsequently completed by RMJM


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 4Glendinning, M, MacInnes, R and MacKechnie, A1996A History of Scottish Architecture  p582
Item 2 of 4Glendinning, Miles1997Rebuilding Scotland: The Postwar Vision, 1945-75  Tuckwell Press Ltdp11 Royal Festival Hall
Item 3 of 4Powell, Kenneth2009Sir Leslie Martin Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia http://uk.encarta.msn.comAccessed 24/09/2009
Item 4 of 4Willis, Peter1977New architecture in Scotland  p15-16 Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama, Photograph of model from 1973

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 4Architects Journal3 August 2000  Obituary by Peter Carolin
Item 2 of 4Daily Telegraph1 August 2000  Obituary
Item 3 of 4Scotsman4 August 2000  Obituary
Item 4 of 4The Guardian2 August 2000  Obituary by Diana Rowntree

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 1RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert MuseumRIBA Nomination Papers A no4469, F no4316 (Combined Box 7)


© All rights reserved. © Philip Sayer 

© All rights reserved. © Philip Sayer