Seeing Leicester in a different light

The incredible Light Up Leicester festival attracted hoards of people on Saturday night. The festival is a city-wide illuminated event displaying impressive, large-scale illuminated immersive artworks lighting up the streets from 3–6 March 2022. I made an impromptu visit with friends to see what the fuss was about. What an incredibly fun experience the organisers managed to arrange.

Not only did we see a fantastic array of artworks, but also several parts of Leicester city centre as the various light sculpture locations took us on a wayfinding journey around the city, taking in some of the best the city has to offer architecturally. Here’s a selection of some of the fantastic illuminations on display that I photographed.

It was incredible how those in attendance moved around the city so freely; a testimony to the great urban design work undertaken over the last decade that has transformed the place.

At one point I found myself staring at the floor, preoccupied with the quality of hard landscaping! There were lots of families, plenty of shops open, and places to eat and drink. It felt so safe and welcoming.

We all saw Leicester in a different light.

Light Up Leicester is delivered by Leicester City Council, ArtReach and BID Leicester. It has been made possible thanks to the support of Arts Council England.

To see the full programme and how you can get involved head over to

Instagram: @Lightupleicester

Twitter: @Lightupleics

Facebook: @lightupleicester

Heritage for Global Challenges: publication and free conference links

If you are interested in the role of heritage in meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, you might find this report of interest.

Furthermore, note this free conference on Heritage and our Sustainable Futures, organised by the UK Commission for UNESCO, this coming week.

Leicester Urban Observatory will be represented in the ‘Inclusive Development for Sustainable Cities’ strand on Friday 26 February between 4:00–6:00pm. See abstract below. Hope you can join us.

Friday 26th February 2021 | 16:00 – 18:00 (GMT) 

Session Description 

It is estimated that by 2050 two-thirds of all humanity will be living in cities. We are living through a time when rapid processes of urbanisation, migration, and urban development have caused significant physical, economic, environmental and social transformations. These transformations challenge the achievement of equality and social justice in urban environments, as marginalised, displaced and other vulnerable groups suffer disproportionately from the consequences. Contemporary changes also threaten the preservation of the urban heritage, highlighting the need to find and implement sustainable conservation, management, and development strategies acceptable to a variety of stakeholders.   

In this session we explore how to rethink and transform current ways of urban heritage interpretation, conservation, management and representation in more creative, integrated, inclusive, and participatory ways. Who controls, conceives, constructs, and communicates the meanings of heritage in urban settings? How are the plurality of heritage interests represented in multicultural environments? What challenges does this present for local decision-makers? What kind of research and practical actions are needed now to maximise the ways heritage can contribute to achieve SDG 11?

See other Praxis publications here:

Design Now – what you need to know

Last month a national RTPI (Royal Town Planning Institute) event on the design dimension of planning was chaired by Justin Webber (RTPI Urban Design Network Chair), who is one of the Leicester Urban Observatory steering group members.

The event featured wide ranging content on current developments in policy and guidance from across the UK, with a mixture of short talks and Q&A sessions. Speakers included:

  • Joanna Averley, MHCLG Chief Planner for England;
  • Professor Matthew Carmona, Head of Place Alliance;
  • Dr Victoria Thomson, Head of National Strategy at Historic England;
  • Mike Leonard, Head of Building Alliance.

From the East Midlands, Dave Singleton provided a focus on ‘Building for a Healthy Life’ and broader insights from the world of landscape architecture. Otherwise, comparative content was provided from speakers representing Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, alongside insights on planning reform, building performance, design codes and recent academic research in England. The recording is now available on YouTube here .

Blue is the colour, football is the game

Are you a blue or a red?” That was the question the bus driver asked as I waited to step off the bus to watch Liverpool versus Everton. I could not have scripted it! Your football colour is important in Liverpool, where personal and collective identities are forged in an allegiance to either the “blues” or the “reds.” In Leicester there is only one answer to this question, and it’s not red. Blue is the colour of Leicester City Football Club, and for many, the colour of Leicester.

At Loughborough University we have been exploring the importance of colour in place identity in response to the question: How does colour contribute to constructing place identity in urban environments? The King Power Stadium, home of Leicester City Football Club, is one of four case studies highlighted in the research, alongside Belgrave Road, Narborough Road, and Highcross.

You will not have the slightest interest in my answer to the question, but it wasn’t blue. What would your answer be? And why? Some answers to these questions will be found in the research. Follow the links below to find out more.

Colour in urban places: A case study of Leicester City Football Club blue (journal article)

Colour in Urban Places: A Case Study of Leicester City Football Club Blue testimonials (research interviews)

Colour as Place Identity: A Case Study of Leicester (dissertation)

If you want to know more about how graphic objects facilitate the function of cities and urban places, visit here.

Robert Harland, School of Design and Creative Arts, Loughborough University

Photographs © Johnny Xu 2020

Acknowledgments: The featured research is by Dr Johnny Xu, undertaken during his PhD. With thanks to Grant Butterworth and Neil Stacey for their support.

Leicester Local Plan

A consultation on the draft of the Leicester’s Local Plan is now open! The Council is asking people for their views on the document, which sets out policies and proposals for the city’s growth over the next 15 years.

The urban area of Leicester is one of the fastest growing areas in the country, with a diverse population of about 650,000. Planning for the future involves anticipating future growth and making decisions about where we allow more development for homes and jobs, as well as identifying the built and natural heritage assets that we need to protect.

Since 2014, the council has undertaken a range of consultation exercises on various stages of developing its local plan. These consultations have considered all aspects of planning policy, although the fundamental focus has always been around the level of growth and how growth is delivered.

Whether your interests lie in local neighbourhoods, the city centre, transport, housing, employment, shopping, climate change or the natural environment, we are seeking your views on the draft Local Plan and its associated evidence.

The consultation is open from 14th September until Monday 7th December.

For more information, to view the draft of the Local Plan and provide comments please visit the City Council’s consultation hub at

Planning for the Future? Leicester City Council’s response……

The Government’s consultation on potentially huge changes to the planning system ends today. The White Paper  can be seen here:  Leicester City Council’s response to the White Paper has now been submitted to the Government and is attached  here: .   The Council sets out significant concerns about many aspects of the White Paper.

There has been much debate on the Government’s intentions-and it is anticipated and acknowledged that any new Legislation will take time to refine and implement. To provide clarity and certainty to citizens, stakeholders and other interested parties, the City Council are pressing ahead with their current Draft Local Plan Consultation which runs to December 7th 2020. To participate in this, visit 


This October Leicestershire and Rutland Society of Architects are hosting Leicester’s annual LOVE ARCHITECTURE Festival, integral part of this year’s Design Season. It will comprise of over 20 online and offline events, including talks, panel discussions and exhibitions, celebrating the local architecture and its community.

Events are open to all, led by local architects, students, designers and other people passionate about local architecture. The offline events will be based in the LCB Depot in Leicester.

For more information about the festival and the events please visit the Love Architecture website at –

A photography competition is an important part of this year’s festival. The theme is architectural detail in Leicestershire and Rutland. The deadline for submission is 9th October 2020. It is free to enter!

Some of the main events of this year’s LOVE ARCHITECTURE Festival are listed below:

10th October, 2pm – Meet the Architect

A rare opportunity for people across Leicestershire and Rutland to meet our RIBA architects with a free one-to-one half-hour design consultation. Bring any home or design query; whether you are looking for advice to create more space in your home, or are looking for ways to bring in more natural light, our architects will do their best to help you. You do not need to be planning a “Grand Designs” style house to come along and talk to a professional, but we would recommend bringing plans (if you have them) and photographs of your existing space.

Eventbrite –

14th October, 6pm – Evening Lecture – Dian Small – Diversity

Diversity in the profession. Dian Small, Regional Director RIBA London discusses diversity in our industry, her experiences and the work she is doing to encourage change within the RIBA and the profession.

Eventbrite –

15th October, 6pm – LOVE ARCHITECTURE Award evening

Presentation of Presidents Award for 2020 graduate at DMU and Loughborough Yr 1 Best Homes / President’s Prize and photography competition.

Eventbrite –

17th October, 2pm – Model making for children

A virtual session for children making paper models of buildings.

Eventbrite –

21st October, 5pm – Evening Lecture – Ben Channon

Eventbrite –

24th October, 8pm – Pub Quiz

It is not all about Architecture or the built environment! Our Regional Director – Mike Baulcombe will be the quizmaster.

Eventbrite –

What is Design Literacy?

Urban Perspectives on Design Literacy Summer School, Loughborough University and Leicester City Council, 20–21 June 2019

As noted earlier on this site, the question ‘What is design literacy?’ recently attracted the attention of practitioners and academics at a second Leicester Urban Observatory summer school held at Loughborough University and in the City of Leicester. Staged over two days, the first part took place at Loughborough, hosted by the Urbanism strand of the institution’s internationally recognised Built Environment research beacon. The second day was in Leicester, first at Maber Architects and then City Hall (a base for further field exploration of some real planning problems faced by city planners).

Design Research Society president, Professor Lady Rachel Cooper OBE (Distinguished Professor of Design Management and Policy, Lancaster University) led proceedings by providing insight into the sensory aesthetics of a city. Her response to a perceived government need for design literacy focused on the necessity for design in city decision-making, and the way design should be considered in all policy decisions about places, services and overall experience.

Despite its inclusion in The Farrell Review* design literacy is not understood by those working either in academia or at the heart of city governance: nobody yet seems to know what it stands for. Judging by the range of summer school participants – spanning architecture, arts practice, arts management, conservation, curation, design, design management, engineering, graphic design, human geography, landscape architecture, librarianship, planning, research, urban design and urban studies – a useful interpretation is yet to emerge.

How will places be greatly improved if planners, landscape designers and highways engineers are more fluent in design literacy? The summer school did not provide quick answers: it’s clearly something that needs grappling with. However, at the event end, all agreed that good design is essential for good cities, but it remains to be seen if this is a consequence of so-called design literacy, whatever it may be.

A full review of the event can be located at:

An information pack for the ‘Urban Perspectives on Design Literacy’ summer school, including the full programme, information about session leaders and list of attendees, can be located at:

Dr Robert Harland | School of Design and Creative Arts | Loughborough University

Acknowledgements: the Urban Perspectives on Design Literacy Summer School was co-organised by Loughborough University and Leicester City Council, in conjunction with Leicester Urban Observatory and with the endorsement of the Design Research Society.

* See

Open Streets: Georgian Leicester Sunday 28th July, 1pm-4pm, New Market Square and surrounding areas

Open Streets’ is a new programme of family friendly events on the last Sunday afternoon of the month. For this month’s event the focus is the Georgian era of history.


The event will see some of the roads in the city’s historic Old Town area closed to traffic so that they can be opened up for people to enjoy. Come along for:

• six separate arts + craft sessions for children – including an architectural model making session;

• baby sensory zone;

• three free talks – Virginia Wright on ‘What the Georgians did for us’; Prof Rosemary Sweet on the ‘Georgian Era Gin Craze’; and Sarah Murden & Joanne Major on ‘Crime and Punishment in the 18th Century’;

• guided walk on Georgian history, guided walk on the history of the Greyfriars area and a guided cycle ride;

• two groups of historic re-enactors attending and;

• rickshaw rides around the city centre;

• live art being created on site;

• Leicestershire County Cricket Club will be providing a ‘street cricket’ session on Grey Friars;

• food and drink stalls, bike park, repairs and more.

All activities are FREE 

For further information, visit:

Images of last event:


Is there such a thing as Design Literacy?

Rob Harland from Loughborough Univesity has been banging on about this question with Leicester Urban Observeratory colleagues for almost five years since Neil, Loretta, Justin, Nic, Gavin, Simon and I started our journey with him on cross sector collaboration back then.

Something in the Farrell review about PLACE had sparked him off.

I thought not. I thought that the key to good design was more learnt through collaboration, experience and application of taught principles- with day to day translation of technical terminology rather than need for codification into a common language leading to possible enentitlement of Qualification in Design Literacy.

I am pleased to say after two thought provoking days at the summer school (hosted by Loughborough University, Mabers Architects and Leicester City Council) Rob pulled together this week, I have changed my view. Rob will post a full write up here on the site shortly but I loved the energetic conversations across academic, council and practitioner perspectives which seemed to coalesce into something. If not Design Literacy, then what?

From unrealised concepts of wave pools in Milton Keynes through to the invocations on the need to centre on people and health, the importance of graphic design in navigating and establishing a sense of place (in real places) and the role of art in our development of place- it was a heady mix.

I particularly enjoyed some bridging of architectural and planning perspectives which confirmed my long held views that both professions are aiming for similar outcomes. To me the event was a delight.

There is no Qualification in Design Literacy in the offing but more conversations like the ones held this week will surely improve a shared appreciation of what these words might mean in practice.

Thanks to all those who attended and contributed- we need to do more of this.

Grant Butterworth

Head of Planning

Leicester City Council

June 2019.