Yorkshire architect Halliday Clark has created a striking chequerboard rebuke to drab suburban Leeds – and housed 450 members of the city’s teeming student population in the process.

The block was designed to be a landmark, but was delivered for the cut-to-the-bone price of £10.4m
The block was designed to be a landmark, but was delivered for the cut-to-the-bone price of £10.4m

The Students didn’t need to ponder too long before nicknaming their new home Chequerboard Towers. The alternating silver ad grey cladding panels speak for themselves. Even the window frames, which are also grey and silver but alternate in counterpoint to the panels enclosing them, reinforce the point.

With imagery as loud, exuberant, and rhythmic as any student rock group, this accommodation block at Leeds Metropolitan University certainly knows its market: all 447 rooms were fully let as soon as it opened last September.

The striking, anti-suburban appearance was chosen by Bradford architect Halliday Clark to spice up a particularly dreary yet prominent site, hemmed in between Leeds’ inner ring road, a railway line, a post-war slab blocks of council flats and Terry Farrell & Partners’ fortress-like Quarry House.

“We consciously created a landmark building as a counterbalance to its monotone surroundings,” says partner Adam Clark. “So we wanted something a bit more confident, lively and European – it could be in Rotterdam. And it could form a catalyst and perhaps a foil for neighbouring development sites.”

All 447 rooms are contained within a single cruciform building, consisting of two 11-storey towers separated by a nine-storey slab block. In the two towers, the chequerboard patterning helps to break down the building’s profile against the skyline. In the lower slab block, silver and grey cladding panels are arranged in bands to give a horizontal emphasis, which is continued at ground level by V-shaped pairs of columns that march between the towers.

Students share self-contained five or six bedroom flats, with a single living, dining and kitchen space and either en-suite or shared bathrooms. Communal facilities consist of little more than the reception area and gym, as the building lies close to the amenities of the city centre.

The project had a tight building budget of £10.4m, or £28,800 per bedspace, so its construction method was not as adventurous as its appearance. If the chequerboard patterning suggests stacks of prefabricated volumetric units, the reality is a more conventional steel frame with dry-lined internal partitions. The eye-catching cladding consists of Kingspan composite aluminium panels, with a flat finish for the towers and soft horizontal corrugations for the slab block.

The procurement route was more unusual. The private developer, Brian Pickard Properties, pre-let the block to a management company, Unipol Student Homes, with the 25-year lease underwritten by Leeds Metropolitan University to house its students.

Leeds Metropolitan students will doubtless be joined by Headingley residents in applauding the new development. Whatever they make of the architecture, the Headingley folk who reside three miles away will no doubt be relieved that no more students are being crammed into their genteel suburb.

Project team

developer Brian Pickard Properties
architect Halliday Clark
structural and services engineer Arup
quantity surveyor Faithful & Gould
landscape architect Smeeden Foreman Partnership
design-and-build contractor Browns of Wilmslow